On 3 May 1991, the UNESCO General Conference held in Windhoek, Namibia, endorsed the principles of press freedom, known as the Windhoek Declaration. Building on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document calls for free, independent and pluralistic media throughout the world as an essential element for democracy. While its original context included issues around the African print media at the time, the Declaration has subsequently taken on a global dimension through the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, held every year on 3 May and hosted by UNESCO.
The 2012 World Press Freedom Day’s theme is “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies”. This is particularly timely in the wake of the popular movements in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, which brought into sharp relief the important role of social media in generating awareness of and support for efforts of people from all walks of life seeking to bring about change. While the complexity of factors and history leading to these events should not be underestimated, there is no doubt the Internet was a powerful amplifier for these voices.
Media freedom is fragile -- journalists are being harassed or killed for doing their work, publications are being censored or shut down, and laws are being pased which criminalize free speech. This reality doesn’t change on the Internet. Along with the new opportunities offered by this global network, new challenges emerge through the use of content filtering, monitoring and suspension of Internet access, often without due regard to individuals’ fundamental rights. Journalists, whether online or offline, should enjoy the same rights and the same protection to fulfill their democratic mission.
A free press is key to ensuring government accountability towards its citizens, and to foster vibrant and dynamic societies. The emergence of ICTs (information communication technologies), such as texting, and new media is particularly empowering for younger generations whose voices hold the promises of future economic, social and political developments.
Press freedom, and the right to freedom of expression, are organically linked – the Windhoek Declaration states “consistent with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.”
The Internet Society is strongly committed to an open, global and decentralized Internet, as a platform for press freedom and human progress.
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