On 3 May the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day. The international day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. The step responded to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.
May 3rd is used to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluate press freedom around the world, 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. This year, the theme of Press Freedom Day is Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms – This is your Right!
On the 25th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, said 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”.
As she also set out, “The right to freedom of opinion and expression includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information. It is a key component of democratic governance and development. People need to be fully informed to be able to form an opinion and participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Freedom of information also contributes to better governance as it enhances transparency in public affairs and can be used as a tool to make governments accountable for their actions, in particular when access to information results in the exposure of human rights violations or corruption practices.”
The European Union has a strong commitment to supporting freedom of expression and opinion, both within Europe and globally. Europe itself is not immune to problems concerning media freedom and pluralism. Political pressure, economic hardship, and physical attacks against journalists, restrictive legislation, and a general financial crisis in the sector are all factors influencing the media’s ability to operate freely.
Here in Liberia, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to freedom of expression and opinion. The Constitution guarantees every person the right to free speech and expression although it also stresses the need for enjoyment of this right to be done responsibly. Unlike many other countries around the world, there are no journalists in jail. There are a number of private media institutions offering a variety of perspectives on domestic and international affairs. In 2010 Liberia became the first West African state to pass a Freedom of Information Act. This Act aims to ensure effective, equitable and inexpensive exercise of the right to access to information, and provides for a right to appeal any decision denying a request for information or infringing on the right of access to information.
However, despite Liberia’s admirable legal framework and political commitment to freedom of opinion and expression, a lot more could be done to increase capacity of information sharing and improve the quality of analysis and reporting World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to raise awareness of the importance of high quality journalism, respect for the profession and to encourage Liberians to make full use of the opportunities they have to access information and express their opinions. After all – This is your Right!
By Tiina Intelmann, EU Ambassador to Liberia