The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Mr António Guterres, has urged all governments around the world to do everything in their power to support a free, independent and diverse media.
According to him, that was the only guaranteed way of combating misinformation and disinformation in an era that inaccuracies and falsehood in the media space was rife.
In a message on World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), commemorated yesterday, the secretary-general underscored the importance of reliable, verified and accessible information, emphasising that: “Free and independent journalism is our greatest ally in combatting misinformation and disinformation.’’
He said as had been seen during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises, it was the journalists who had helped the world navigate through the overwhelming plethora of information and helped deal with false, dangerous information.
“During the pandemic, and in other crises including the climate emergency, journalists and media workers help us navigate a fast-changing and often overwhelming landscape of information, while addressing dangerous inaccuracies and falsehoods.
“As budgets tighten, so too does access to reliable information. Rumours, falsehoods and extreme or divisive opinions surge in to fill the gap, it is, therefore, important for all governments everywhere to do everything in their power to support a free, independent and diverse media.”
World Press freedom Day
The WPFD is observed on May 3 each year by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the various international journalists groups, to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It also marks the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in Windhoek in 1991.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration in 1991 and it was commemorated with a World Press Freedom Global Conference in Windhoek, where it all began 30 years ago,
Held on the theme: “Information as a Public Good,” it served as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind.
The theme is also of urgent relevance to all countries across the world.
The Global Conference, attended by 600 journalists (both in person and virtual), deliberated on the reviews of the six regional events held after Windhoek.
As part of the celebrations of the 30th anniversary, the 2021 Global Conference also adopted the Windhoek + 30 Declaration, a communique, calling for an urgent need to address the threat of extinction faced by local news media around the world, a crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also proposing ideas to tackle the challenges of the online media environment, push for more transparency, call for the strengthening of the safety of journalists, improvement in their working conditions and the support of independent media houses
Mr Guterres expressed concern over the worsening situation of journalists and media personnel in the discharge of their duty.
He said after 30 years of the push for press freedom, journalists were challenged in many fronts as they continued to face the personal risks, including restrictions, censorship, abuse, harassment, detention and even death, “simply for doing their jobs.”
He also said the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic had hit many media outlets hard, threatening their very survival, he added.
Contributing to humanity’s well-being
Also in an address, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet, highlighted the importance of free, uncensored and independent press as “a cornerstone of democratic societies”, conveying life-saving information, improving public participation, and strengthening accountability and respect for human rights.
She said while people had the right to demonstrate to demand their rights to economic and social development, it seemed that same right had been criminalised for journalists in some countries.
“Around the world, people have increasingly taken to the streets to demand their economic and social rights, as well as an end to discrimination and systemic racism, impunity, and corruption.
“However, journalists fulfilling their fundamental role of reporting on these social protests have become targets, with many becoming victims of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrests, and criminal prosecution,” she emphasised.
Today, the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), in collaboration with UNESCO, will organise a symposium and flag-raising ceremony at the Ghana International Press Centre in Accra.
The event will be chaired by the Chairman of the National Media Commission, Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, with the Minister of Information, Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, as the Guest of Honour.
Other dignitaries to grace the occasion are the UNESCO Country Director, Mr Abdourahamane Diallo; the United Nations Resident Co-ordinator, Mr Charles Abani, the US Ambassador to Ghana; Mrs Stephanie S. Sullivan, and the Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation in Ghana, Ms Diana Acconcia.