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World Press Freedom Day

Updated: May 4, 2019

Statement by H.E. Ms Fatima Kyari Mohammed

Ambassador, African Union Permanent Observer to the United Nations

(delivered also on behalf of UNESCO)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking UNESCO and the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC) for bringing us together here at the UN Headquarters on this World Press Freedom Day. There are almost 100 events taking place worldwide to mark this important Day.

In fact, the global conference event has been taking place since Wednesday at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference is jointly organized by UNESCO, the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the African Union Commission – the first time a regional Organization partners with UNESCO on this endeavour.

The Day we celebrate Press Freedom is in fact on May 3rd to mark the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, adopted this day in 1991 by African journalists as a call for an Independent and Pluralistic African Press. The UNESCO General Conference then recommended this International Day to the UN General Assembly, who proclaimed it in 1993.

The theme for World Press Freedom Day in 2019 “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation” concerns the current challenges faced by the media in times of elections and the growing prevalence of disinformation, along with the media’s potential to support democracy, peace and reconciliation.

This commemoration theme is closely interlinked with the objectives of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which under Aspiration 3 envisions “An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law and specifically earmarks, under it a specific goal on

“Democratic values, practices, universal principles of human rights, justice and the rule of law entrenched” as one of its priority areas to be realized by 2023.

Similarly, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 underscores the importance of public access to information and fundamental freedoms, which includes freedom of expression. SDG 16 recognizes that peace and democracy are preconditions for equitable and sustainable development. When freedom of expression and safety of journalists are protected, the media can play a vital role in preventing conflict and in supporting peaceful democratic processes. These outcomes are conditions for the realization of Africa’s Agenda 2063 as well.

The SDGs themselves encapsulate media’s potential to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies. SDG Target 16.10 urges UN Member States to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”. The two indicators to follow progress under Target 16.10 cover the safety of journalists and the legal and political guarantees to access information. These indicators show that under the UN agenda for sustainable development, the institutions of a free and safe press are a substantive component of peaceful societies.

It follows that a free and safe press must be able to access and disseminate information of public interest without fear of attack. Since today we will be looking into how the digital era is affecting electoral communications, it is important to also consider what can be done to counter rhetorical and other attacks on journalism, including during elections.

One effect of aggressive rhetoric is to blur the line between legitimate critique of media and naked threats which violate the right of journalists to exercise freedom of expression. Yet, the safety of journalists is fundamental to whether an election can be considered as free and fair.

Rapid political and judicial responses are needed at all times to address impunity for crimes against journalists – and these are particularly relevant during an election period. Recent resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO have urged Member States to create monitoring mechanisms under the SDG framework in order to track the safety of journalists.

The importance of having free and safe professional journalism in an election is highlighted against the background of social media and social messaging where disinformation flourishes.