“Serious, dispassionate, impartial journalism is at a premium,” he said at the rally. “That is what Alan Johnston was doing in Gaza.”
He underscored the risks involved in reporting, and in calling for Mr. Johnston’s release said, “Alan Johnston represents the dangers facing journalists around the world.” The head of the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the body that is mandated to protect freedom of expression, honoured all those journalists who have risked their lives and affirmed the significance of the role of the media.
“They understand better than anyone that media contributes significantly to processes of accountability, reconstruction and reconciliation,” UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said, adding that they also command admiration, respect and support. “Indeed, the growth in violence against journalists is telling, if tragic, testimony to the importance of the media to modern democracies.” UNESCO’s theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day, which was established by the UN in 1993, is the safety of journalists.
In particular, Mr. Matsuura deplored the violence perpetrated against journalists in Iraq, where 69 media professionals were killed last year alone. Since the start of the conflict in April 2003, 170 journalists, mostly local ones, have perished there.
“Never in recorded history has there been such a large-scale killing of journalists,” he noted.
Mr. Matsuura also asserted that journalists’ safety must be bolstered, urging governments to bring an end to the “pervasive culture of impunity that surrounds violence against journalists.”
General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa paid tribute to journalists who have been impeded in their efforts.
“Our hearts go out to all journalists who have been silenced or those whose freedom has been restricted in any way,” she said in a statement delivered on her behalf by Christian Wenaweser, the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein. “And to those who have paid the ultimate price, giving up their lives in pursuit of freedom of expression and greater public awareness,” she added. “Their memories will be forever etched in our hearts.” Sheikha Haya joined the chorus demanding Mr. Johnston’s immediate and safe release. “But not just Alan Johnston, every reporter unlawfully imprisoned must be set free.” Echoing her sentiments, the UN Staff Union also called for Mr. Johnston to be freed, highlighting the common risks both UN personnel working in to bring peace and relief and journalists endeavouring to tell their story face.
“A world where reporters and humanitarian workers cannot do their job in reasonably secure conditions is a world much less safe, transparent and free for all of us.” The top UN human rights official lauded the courage of journalists striving to contribute to building free societies.
“In the face of these dangers, there has never been more information available to so many around the world,” said Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “This represents a vibrant tribute to the perseverance and courage of the press and workers in ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, and evidence of the unquenchable human thirst for information and knowledge.”
Governments are obliged to “respect the right of al to hold opinions without interference,” she added, regardless whether or not they “recognize that attempting to curtail the free flow of ideas is ultimately futile.” The High Commissioner also called attention to the fact that media professionals are not only in danger in conflict zones, pointing out that journalists have been