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Press Freedom not a decadent Western value, but a human right

 

BANGKOK, May 2006 - In his 10th May address to UNESCO staff in Bangkok, Philippe Latour, South-East Asia Representative of Reporters Sans Frontières, reminded the public that so far this year, the world has witnessed the deaths of 63 journalists and 5 media assistants. “More than 800 were arrested; more than 1300 physically attacked or threatened and 1000 media outlets were censored.”


Mr. Latour spoke about Information as an Agent of Democratic Change: one in a series of public talks organized by UNESCO to emphasize the importance of Press Freedom and the freedom of information. “As we speak, around 130 journalists are languishing in jail, simply for having done their job. 70 cyber-dissidents live the same tragic conditions because they dared to send or simply read information regarding allegedly “politically sensitive’ matters,” he continued.

 

Special Envoy


“I don’t need to tell you,” Latour said, “how important it is to have free and independent media for transparency and accountability; for building a society with free minds and free hearts; to have a better educated population, empowered with critical thinking and the ability to take initiative.” In this regard he supports the notion of UNESCO naming a UN envoy for Press Freedom to remind us all that a freedom we take for granted is under threat in most parts of the world.


Latour emphasized that freedom of expression is one of the fundamental pillars of democratic and free societies. He was alarmed to see the Thai press and media, amongst the most independent in the region, steadily lose their hard won freedoms. And he singled out Myanmar as a country with “absolutely no press freedom,” whose journalists have fled to a twilight world of refugee camps and illegal employment in neighbouring countries.

 

Imprisoned for writing the truth

Latour asked us to remember U Win Tin, a respected journalist, writer, poet and close friend of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now at the age of 76, has been in prison for 17 years for writing about politically sensitive matters. He has been offered freedom by his captors many times, in exchange for a signed document where he would renounce involvement in politics. But he has always refused even though he is suffering from a number of serious ailments and is detained in appalling conditions. His courage and spirit of resistance to tyranny is an example to all of us.


“UNESCO is one of the rare, if not the only international organization within the UN system that has been paying serious and regular attention to the issue of freedom of expression,” Latour added. “By annually awarding The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Award, a World Press Freedom award, to individual journalists and media workers fighting for their rights, UNESCO has shown the world that press freedom is not a decadent Western value, but a fundamental human right. Of course UNESCO could do more. But we all could.” Latour concluded his talk with a request to the Royal Thai Government and UNESCO to consider giving special treatment and official press cards to Burmese journalists living here. “They deserve protection and respect. No dictatorship is eternal; nobody can kill the messenger forever.”

 

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Contact:

Ms. Anuje Pina Sirikit
Public Information Officer
Email: a.sirikit(at)unescobkk.org
Tel. 02-391 0577 Ext. 347

Ms. Susanne Ornager
Advisor for CI in Asia and Pacific
Email: s.ornager@unescobkk.org
Tel. 02-391 0577 Ext. 160

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3 May – World Press Freedom Day

3 May is a day to celebrate and recognize the fundamental principles of press freedom. It is also an occasion to inform the public that freedom of the press often comes at a price. In many parts of the world, including Asia, publications are censored or suspended, journalists fined and attacked, and offices closed down. World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to deliberate the broader issues of ‘publish or perish’, and to pay tribute to journalists who file their stories under the most difficult conditions and sometimes lose their lives to practice their profession.

 

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