UN official decries weakening of press freedom

pressfreedom.jpgDawn | UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has decried weakening of press freedom world over, saying that governments are becoming more secretive and offering propaganda disguised as objective information – especially when alleged security-related issues are on the table.

In a message on the occasion of Press Freedom Day, Ms Arbour noted that harassment and secrecy laws were weakening press freedom. “It is a sad fact that many governments across the world persist in undermining the freedom of the press to report facts and opinions and, by extension, the right of people in general to be informed about events and policies that are shaping our world,” Louise Arbour said.

The proliferation of new or strengthened secrecy laws meant that the media were forced to resort to speculation, which can then be used against them to further undermine their credibility, or even as a justification for initiating legal proceedings against them, she said.

“When information flows freely, people are equipped with tools to take control of their lives,” Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon noted in his message for the day. “When the flow of information is hindered — whether for political or technological reasons – our capacity to function is stunted.”

Mr Ban stressed that a free, secure and independent media was one of the foundations of peace and democracy. “Attacks on freedom of the press are attacks against international law, humanity, and freedom itself – everything the UN stands for,” he said.

Alarmed at the increasing targeting of journalists around the world, and the failure to thoroughly investigate and prosecute such crimes, he called on all societies to spare no effort in bringing to justice the perpetrators of such attacks.

He paid tribute to all who work in difficult and dangerous conditions to provide the world with free, unbiased information.

The head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), Koichiro Matsuura, stressed that press freedom and access to information served the wider development objective of empowering people by giving people the information that could help them gain control over their own lives.

“Access to information is primordial to the exercise of the basic human right of freedom of expression,” Mr Matsuura added. To be free, the media need to have access to information. Such access is also indispensable in fighting corruption, which has been defined as the primary obstacle to development.

The winner of this year’s Unesco World Press Freedom Prize is a Mexican reporter, Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, who has been a target of death threats, sabotage and police harassment because of her work uncovering prostitution and child pornography networks.