The potential of media in fostering dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation is the theme of the UN World Press Freedom Day 2009.
WACC recognizes – along with many others – that freedom of the press underlies democracy and enhances freedom of expression. The capacity of the ‘fourth estate’ to hold governments and public institutions accountable, to inform and alert the world’s people is indispensible. And never more so than in an age of 24/7 digital communication.
Press freedom is essential for the media to foster dialogue, challenge violations of human rights and the rule of law, and expose corruption. Press freedom is a matter of life and death. Already in 2009, Reporters Without Borders has recorded the deaths of 18 journalists and the imprisonment of 143 journalists and 66 cyberdissidents. Article 19 recently highlighted the plight of women journalists in Yemen, who are subject to censorship and slanderous attacks ‘simply because they are women’. Journalists everywhere must be able to practice their profession without fear and censorship. The resurgence of official censorship in Fiji is of particular concern on this World Press Freedom Day.
Good governance and informed democratic participation depend on a free press. They also depend on diverse and pluralistic media that follow high professional and ethical standards of accuracy and inclusiveness, and that are not beholden to special private or political interests. Only the observance of high professional standards enables the media to hold or gain credibility with the public. A public well served by a highly professional and ethical press is a public that will see value in press freedom.
Thus, media responsibility and accountability in combination with press freedom lie at the heart of democratic processes. With this in mind, civil society media observatories have begun to monitor media content and to critique media ownership and control. Media reform movements in Europe, Latin America and North America underscore the need and desire for an inclusive, diverse, vibrant and fair media free from political and commercial special interests.
When the mass media are free, independent, responsible and accountable can they contribute meaningfully to the life and liberty of the populations they serve. A free press that gives voice to minorities and marginalized groups promotes dialogue and mutual understanding among the different groups in society.
Press freedom in combination with media professionalism and responsibility enables spaces in which to inform and be informed, to debate public-policy making and the way powerful public and private institutions are run. Together they enable alternative points of view and – ultimately – truth-telling in matters of public concern.
WACC stands for communication rights in a pluralistic society. We believe that press freedom in combination with media professionalism, responsibility and accountability is vital to open dialogue and debate in a world of diversity. Media practitioners and civil society can work together to bring this about.
The Rev. Randy Naylor
General Secretary, WACC
WACC promotes communication for social change. It believes that communication is a basic human right that defines people's common humanity, strengthens cultures, enables participation, creates community and challenges tyranny and oppression.