2 February 2005
Background Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, UNESCO convened an informal East-West meeting of media professionals in February 1990 to discuss and assess the problems and urgent requirements of the newly independent press of Central and Eastern Europe.
More than 90 representatives of independent media from the region met with representatives of major Canadian, US and Western European media. Starting in 1991, a series of regional meetings on the promotion of an independent and pluralistic press focused on national, regional and international ways and means of improving respect for the right to freedom of expression and such issues as the safety of journalists, legal obstacles to the free flow of information, and material and training requirements of the media in different regions.
In 1991, the General Conference of UNESCO recommended that the United Nations
General Assembly proclaim 3 May as World Press Freedom Day, which it did in December 1993; the day coincides with the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media, adopted on 3 May 1991 at the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press held in Windhoek, Namibia, from 29 April to 3 May 1991. The Windhoek Declaration called for the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press and emphasized the importance of a free press to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
Although World Press Freedom Day has only been celebrated since 1993, it has much deeper roots in the United Nations: Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”
Press freedom is considered to be a cornerstone of human rights and a guarantee of other freedoms. It encourages transparency and good governance and it ensures that society enjoys the rule of true justice. Freedom of the press is a bridge of understanding and knowledge. It is essential for the exchange of ideas between nations and cultures which is a condition for true understanding and lasting cooperation.
According to the professional organizations, of the 523 journalists killed between 1992 and 2002, 374 were intentionally murdered: 128 for their political opinions, 67 for having exposed corruption, and 179 because they were in conflict areas but were killed despite having identified themselves as reporters.
Each year, 3 May marks the fundamental principles of press freedom. It serves as an occasion to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of the freedom of the press and to assess the state of press freedom around the world. It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
It is a day to defend the media from attacks on their independence, to inform citizens and increase their awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and to alert them of violations of the right to freedom of expression – 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.
Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. It also serves as a reminder that many journalists brave death or jail to bring people their daily news.
Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press: Windhoek, Namibia (29 April-3 May 1991)
Participants from 35 African countries and several non-governmental organizations met in Windhoek to discuss press freedom, media independence and pluralism. Organized by UNESCO, the United Nations Department of Public Information and UNDP, this first regional seminar ended with the adoption of the Declaration of Windhoek. This Declaration focused on promoting an independent and pluralistic African press and served as a basis for similar declarations in other regions.
The Declaration emphasized that the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
In addition to defining the concepts of press independence and pluralism, the Declaration noted that media professionals in many African countries continued to be victims of human rights violations or otherwise restricted through such economic and political pressures as restrictions on newsprint, licensing systems or visas. The signatories called on international organizations to provide direct funding to non-governmental media that reflect the society as a whole and the different points of view within the communities they serve.
The participants also recommended that UNESCO and the United Nations proclaim 3 May as World Press Freedom Day.
Seminar on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Asian Media: Alma Ata, Kazakstan (5-9 October 1992)
This second major regional seminar brought together Asian media professionals and ended with the adoption of the Declaration of Alma Ata. This Declaration endorsed the fundamental principles espoused in the Declaration of Windhoek and reiterated requests for technical, material or financial assistance to Asian media professionals. This Declaration also focused on the specific requirements of newly independent States of the region and called for assistance and advice on drafting new laws to ensure respect for freedom of information and of the press, and abolish economic and legal barriers to press freedom, independence and pluralism of the media.
Seminar on Media Development and Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean: Santiago, Chili (2-6 May 1994)
At this third regional seminar, participants focused on media development and democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The final document of this seminar, called the Declaration of Santiago, condemned continual violations and violence committed against media professionals and recalled that, in many cases, those responsible for crimes enjoyed impunity. The Declaration called for the creation of a World Press Freedom Prize to be awarded annually to honor individuals, organizations or institutions that have contributed significantly to the advancement of freedom of information.
Seminar on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Arab Media: Sana’a, Yemen (7-11 January 1996)
The fourth regional seminar, held in Sana’a, brought together media professionals from Arab States. They focused on specific issues that affect the independence and pluralism of Arab media. The Declaration of Sana’a called, among other things, for the provision or reinforcement of constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom of expression and press freedom. It also called for the establishment of truly independent, representative associations, syndicates or trade unions of journalists in those Arab countries where they do not exist. In addition, the Declaration stated that disputes involving the media should be tried under civil, not criminal, codes and procedures.
European Seminar on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media: Sofia, Bulgaria (10-13 September 1997)
The United Nations and UNESCO organized this European Seminar (with a special focus on Central and Eastern Europe) as the fifth and the last in the series of regional seminars in response to the democratization process under way in many regions of the world. It ended with the adoption of the Declaration of Sofia. The Seminar focused on the challenges posed by the emergence of an independent press in Central and Eastern Europe. There were debates on topics of general European interest and concern such as media ownership, defamation, privacy and insult laws, media and tolerance, violence against media, development of human resources and access to information in the new information society.
Sequence of Events 1989 – 2002
November: The General Conference of UNESCO puts to rest the controversies around the “New World Information and Communication Order” (NWICO) and adopts a New Communication Strategy aiming “to encourage the free flow of information, at international as well as national levels, to promote the wider and better balanced dissemination of information, without any obstacle to freedom of expression, and to strengthen communication capacities in the developing countries in order to increase their participation in the communication process”.
February: Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an East-West Round Table in Paris brings together for the first time journalists and editors from the newly independent media of Central and Eastern Europe and their counterparts from Western Europe and North America. This is UNESCO’s first concrete response to the end Cold War, and is viewed by professional media circles as a pioneer initiative. The New Communication strategy gets operational.
May: The Seminar on promoting an independent and pluralistic African Press takes place in Windhoek (Namibia). It adopts the Declaration of Windhoek laying down the pre-conditions for the establishment of press freedom, media pluralism and independence in Africa.
October: The General Conference of UNESCO “invites the Director-General to extend to other regions of the world the actions taken so far in Africa and Europe; to celebrate the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration adopted on 3 May; (and) to transmit to the United Nations General Assembly the wish expressed by the Member States of UNESCO to have 3 May declared “International Press Freedom Day”.
February: UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) adapts its rules to the recommendations made in the Declaration of Windhoek. Henceforth, projects submitted by the private sector can obtain financial support from IPDC on the same basis as those initiated by the public sector.
September: IFEX (the International Network for Freedom of Expression was set up with the financial and moral support of UNESCO. IFEX aims to watch over all questions concerning freedom of the press throughout the entire world. The Network has extended very rapidly to all the continents and in 1998 there were more than 300 subscribers situated for the majority in the developing countries
October: The Seminar on promoting independent and pluralistic Asian Media takes place in Almaty (Kazakstan). The Declaration of Alma-Ata extends the principles of the Declaration of Windhoek to the Asian continent.
December: UNESCO commits itself to “peace-making” and takes action to protect and reinforce independent media in war-torn Yugoslavia. In collaboration with professional media organizations, it launches the “SOS MEDIA” campaign in order to sensitize the public to the importance of non-partisan information in times of war. Furthermore, it gives financial, material and diplomatic support to the independent media in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, that are on the verge of extinction because of their refusal to contribute to the war propaganda led by the “official” media.
May: UNESCO’s Director-General Federico Mayor is awarded the 1993 Press Freedom Prize of the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ). This recognition comes from the organization that in the 80s was among the fiercest critics of the Organization, when a violent polemic around NWICO led to the withdrawal of the United States and the United Kingdom from UNESCO.
December: The UN General Assembly declares 3 May, World Press Freedom Day.
May: The Seminar on media development and democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean takes place in Santiago (Chile). The Declaration of Santiago reaffirms the principles of the Declaration of Windhoek for the Latin America and the Caribbean. President Eduardo Frei dedicates a square in Santiago to press freedom, naming it International Square of Freedom of the Press.
February: An independent television (NTV 99) is inaugurated in Sarajevo thanks to the financial support of several European states and practical assistance of FORPRONU. UNESCO’s media programme in former Yugoslavia receives over one million dollars from the European Union, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and other donors. UNESCO is nominated lead agency in the UN system for support to independent media in former Yugoslavia.
February: A UNESCO Symposium in Toronto on Women and the Media, Access to Expression and Decision-making; adopts the Toronto Platform for Action. This will serve as a basis for the Beijing Platform for Action (Section J) adopted in September. The UN Secretary-General, in his report to the Commission on the status of women; of 23 January 1996, will call the Toronto Platform for Action UNESCO’s major contribution to the fourth World Conference on Women.
November: The General Conference of UNESCO endorses the Declarations of Windhoek, Almaty and Santiago. At the same time, the Member States adopt unanimously the Toronto Platform for Action.
January: The Seminar on promoting independent and pluralistic Arab media takes place in Sana’a (Yemen). The Declaration of Sana’a validates the principles of the Declaration of Windhoek for the Arab region.
May: In the context of the World Press Freedom Day (3 May) celebration at UNESCO Headquarters, UNESCO’s Consultative Group for Press Freedom, made up of sixteen eminent journalists and editors from all regions, is introduced to Member States and major media professional organizations. Federico Mayor announces the creation of World Press Freedom Prize. Six heads of state (France, Jordan, Nicaragua, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States) and the UN Secretary-General send messages to UNESCO stressing the importance of press freedom for democracy. On the same day, nine international media organizations, which in the past had fought against UNESCO’s policy in communication (NWICO), send messages to the US President and the British Prime Minister encouraging them to rejoin UNESCO.
May: On 3 May, in Bilbao, Federico Mayor awards the first UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to the Chinese journalist Gao Yu imprisoned in her country for professional activities. Eight international media organizations write to the Director-General to express their appreciation of his firm and unflinching support of a free press around the globe.
May: The Editors of newspapers in Latin America adopt the Declaration of Puebla, the foundation of the Redipaz project, a network of newspapers which aims to promote freedom of expression around the world.
June: The Director-General creates a Unit for Freedom of Expression and Democracy. Its mission is to consolidate and develop UNESCO’s role in promoting freedom of expression as a basic human right, essential to democracy. It is called upon to act swiftly at all times, whenever and wherever freedom of expression is in jeopardy.
July: The United Kingdom rejoins UNESCO.
September: The European seminar on promoting independent and pluralistic media takes place in Sofia (Bulgaria). The Declaration of Sofia pledges support to the Declaration of Windhoek and thus confirms the universality of its principles.
November: The General Conference of UNESCO endorses the Declarations of Sana’a and Sofia. It confirms that freedom of expression is a fundamental right of everyone and is essential to the realization of all the rights set forth in international human rights instruments. It also invites the Director-General to condemn the assassination and any physical violence against journalists as a crime against society; and to request the authorities to discharge their duty of preventing, investigating and punishing such crimes and remedying their consequences.
February: UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize goes to the imprisoned Nigerian journalist Christina Ayanwu.
March: The Interamerican Press Association (IAPA/SIP) awards the Director-General of UNESCO the First Chapultepec Grand Prize; for his consistent and dedicated work in the promotion of freedom of the press.
June: UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor hailed the announced liberation of nine Nigerian political prisoners, among them Christina Anyanwu, director of The Sunday Magazine and laureate of the 1998 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
November: The UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression is set up at the La Plata National University in Argentina.
February: Chinese journalist Gao YU, laureate of the 1997 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is released from prison.
May: Mexican journalist, Jesús Blancornelas, the victim of a murder attempt by drug traffickers, is awarded the 1999 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. The award ceremony takes place in Bogotá, at the invitation of the Guillermo Cano Foundation.
November: Launch of the UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.
February: UNESCO Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, signs the World Press Freedom Committee’s “Charter for a Free Press”. During the ceremony, the Director-General reiterated UNESCO’s commitment to freedom of expression, saying it will be very attentive in addressing any initiative concerning intrenational regulation of ethics, practices and content on the Internet or satellite broadcasting. Whenever crimes are committed through the Internet, “action should target the criminals and not the medium”, he said.
March: Syrian journalist Nizar Nayyouf, in prison since 1992 for his professional activities, is awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
May: Round Table in Geneva on “The Media in Conflict and Post-conflict Areas” jointly organised by UNESCO and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, with the co-operation of the UN High Commission for Human Rights and several professional media associations. This event is held within the framework of the celebration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
November: Seminar on Independent and Pluralistic Media held in Croatia.
March: Jailed Myanmar journalist U Win Tin is awarded the 2001 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
May: UNESCO celebrates World Press Freedom Day in Windhoek. The award-giving ceremony of the 2001 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and a conference of some journalists, editors, and representatives of NGOs and professional organizations from Africa and the rest of the world marked the 10th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration.
May: World Press Freedom Laureate Nizar Nayyouf was freed from jail on May 6.
December: Establishment of UNESCO Chair in Freedom of Expression at the Divine World University, Papua New Guinea.
February: Geoffrey Nyarota, Editor in Chief of Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News is named as laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for 2002.
May: UNESCO celebrates World Press Freedom Day in Manila. Along with the award-giving ceremony, a three day seminar was held on “Terrorism and the Media”.