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Home > Publications > Quill > Recognizing World Press Freedom


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Friday, April 3, 2009
Recognizing World Press Freedom

Bruce Swaffield

What are your plans for World Press

Freedom Day on May 3? Each of us should do something to mark the occasion, even if we spend only a few moments in silence thinking about the scores of journalists who have died in the line of duty: 438 individuals since 2002 alone, according to Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org).

World Press Freedom Day began as a way of recognizing the continuous fight for freedom of the press all over the globe. The observance started in 1993 when UNESCO proclaimed May 3 as a date “to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”

Officials and members of the media will meet in Qatar to commemorate the courageous work of journalists everywhere, and to honor the recipient of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. The $25,000 award is presented annually to “a person, organization or institution that has made a notable contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially if this involved risk.” Last year’s laureate was Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, a freelance reporter in Cancun, Mexico.

May 3 “serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom — a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered” (www.unesco.org).

There are literally thousands of journalists, in all countries and regions, who should be applauded for their courage and work. Here are some:

• In Cuba, Miguel Galván Gutiérrez was arrested in March 2003. An independent journalist with Havana Press, Gutiérrez was found guilty of acting as a “mercenary in the service of a foreign power.” He remains in prison today, serving a 26-year sentence. You can sign a petition for his release at the RSF Web site.

• In China, blogger Xu Lai (known as Qian Liexan) was stabbed twice in the stomach on Feb. 14 by assailants who said they had come to “take revenge.”

• In the Czech Republic, reporter Sabina Slonkova was convicted of protecting her sources and fined 700 euros in a Prague court.

• In Morocco, police raided the offices of Al-Ayam and harassed editors because the newspaper wanted to write a story about the king’s mother.

• In Sierra Leone, four female journalists — Manjama Balama-Samba, Henrietta Kpaka, Isha Jalloh and Jenneh Brima — were abducted Feb. 6 by members of the secret society known as Bondo. They were released two days later after one of the women was forced to walk naked through city streets in Kenema.

• In Russia, a 72-year-old editor of a local opposition newspaper was beaten Feb. 3. Though he was left unconscious by the attack, which resulted in a broken nose, injury to his cheek and a concussion, a police official in the Moscow suburb said that Yuri Grachev could have “stumbled or fallen and done himself the injuries found by the doctors,” RSF reported.

These are just a few examples of what is going on outside our nation. While World Press Freedom Day may not mean much here in the United States, it stands for hope and opportunity to journalists in other countries, especially those right next door to us in Mexico and Cuba.

No matter what you plan for World Press Freedom Day, please do something. For me, I am going to start with remembering the 11 who have died during the first 45 days of this year:

Gaza

Jan. 6 — Bassel Faraj, cameraman, TV Algérie

Jan. 9 — Alaa Murtaja, journalist and correspondent, Radio al-Burak

KENYA

Jan. 29 — Francis Kainda Nyaruri, freelance journalist Mexico

Feb. 13 — Jean Paul Ibarra Ramírez, photojournalist, El Correo

PAKISTAN

Jan. 4 — Saleem Thair Awan, freelance journalist

Jan. 4 — Muhammad Imran, Express TV

Feb. 18 — Musa Khankhel, Geo News and

The News

RUSSIA

Jan. 19 — Anastasia Baburova, Novaya Gazeta

SOMALIA

Jan. 1 — Hassan Mayow Hassan, Radio Shabelle

Feb. 4 — Saïd Tahlil, Radio HornAfrik

SRI LANKA

Jan 8 — Lasantha Wickrematunga, Sunday Leader

These individuals will be missed, not only by their friends and families, but by the entire profession of journalism. The media and the world will not be the same without them. Their voices are now silent, but their struggle for freedom of the press lives on through us.

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