Media professionals, including photo-journalists, who risk their lives in the line of duty, are recognised on World Press Information Day.
What do people do?
World Press Freedom Day gives people the chance to pay tribute to media professionals who risked or lost their lives in the line of duty. Many communities, organisations and individuals take part in this day through various events such as art exhibitions, dinners featuring keynote speakers, and awards nights to honour those who risked their lives to bring news to the world.
Public life — World Press Freedom Day is a global observance and not a public holiday.
Background — World Press Freedom Day was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993 as an outgrowth of the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press. This seminar took place in Namibia in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Inde-pendent and Pluralistic Media.
The Windhoek Declaration called to establish, maintain and foster an independent, pluralistic and free press. It emphasised the importance of a free press for developing and maintaining 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 that 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”.
Each year since 1997, the Unesco/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded to honour the work of an individual or an organisation defending or promoting freedom of expression, especially if it puts the individual’s life at risk.
The award is named after a journalist murdered in 1986 after denouncing drug barons. Last year it was awarded posthumously to a Russian investigative reporter who was murdered in a contract-style killing in 2006.
A free Press is a form of freedom of expression, providing citizens with access to knowledge and information, thus safeguarding any political system based on the will of the people. It is a day to consider the importance of freedom of the press, and to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But Freedom of the Press Day serves not only to highlight the importance of an uncensored press: it also serves as a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down; that in many countries, journalists, editors and publishers and bloggers are harassed, attacked, jailed and even murdered. It aims to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to Press freedom, and to journalists
This day also serves as a reminder to professionals of their responsibility to society, and of the importance of maintaining professional ethics. It is a day of support for media, which are targets for the censorship, or abolition of press freedom. And it is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino once said: “Freedom of the Press guarantees popular participation in the decisions and actions of government, and popular participation is the essence of democracy.”
A free press is sometimes called the Fourth Pillar of Democracy. That is because a free Press reports abuses of power by public officials. It shines a spotlight on government decision makers and those who influence them. It keeps the citizens informed of news critical of the government, gives them the opportunity to exchange information and opinions about public affairs without interference by government officials. It spurs them into pressuring the government to right wrongs.
As one-time US Supreme Court Judge Felix Frankfurter once said, “Freedom of the Press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of (achieving) a free society.”
A silent Press means the end of democracy.