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Freedom of the Press: New Horizons and New Barriers

The role which can be played by free press in shaping the destiny of people - especially in the aftermath of the growing role played by the internet and its transformation into a major vehicle for exercising the right to free expression addition to the emergence of new media tools such as social media - has become crystal clear this year.

On the anniversary of the International Day for Free Press, which coincides with the 3rd of May of each year, GIHR reaffirms the importance of free press in enhancing the human right to free expression, exposing injustices and violations, and struggling for democratic societies free from violence and discrimination.

This day, the root origins of which go back to African journalists who sought, following the downfall of Berlin Wall and the down-break of barriers imposed on media vehicles in Eastern Europe, to achieve similar progress in their continent, where they organized a study session in Namibia in 1991 which issued the historical Windhoek Declaration on free and independent media, whereupon the UN General Assembly declared, two years later, the International Day for the Freedom of the Press to commemorate this day.

The struggle of many people around the world, especially the people of the Arab region, for their rights and democratic liberties, is similar to the struggle of those African journalists twenty years ago, notwithstanding great differences in the media scene; the widespread of new relatively cheap media tools, such as mobile phones, made it possible for the masses to receive, send, and share information conveniently; the emergence of what came to be known as citizens’ journalism which contributed to enriching liberties and flourishing societies, despite the fact that parallel to these new horizons is the existence of various challenges both old – such as using the media to propagate hatred, provoke violence, disseminate ideas based on ethnic superiority or racial contempt, and the persistence of the digital divide  – and new – such as internet censorship and blocking measures which places a serious barrier in the face of free press and free expression.

GIHR salutes on this occasion, the souls of all those journalists who lost their lives in the course of pursuing their professional duties, of whom there were 60 in 2010 alone; to date, we are still witnessing the exposure of more and more journalists an bloggers to harassments, detentions, violence, intimidations, and death not for any crime except communicating facts and information to people. Probably the one of the major factors which aggravate threats and acts of actual violence against journalists is impunity or failure to investigate the committed acts and trial of people responsible for them. According to what has been cited in the Special Rapporteur for Free Expression’s latest report submitted to the UN Council for Human Rights, perpetrators managed to go completely unpunished in 94% of the cases in which journalists were killed in 2009, and that failure to punish people who are responsible for the killings will encourage others, who prefer to keep journalists silent, to follow suit thereby reinforcing a vicious circle with “destructive and corruptive impact on society at large” in the long-run.

GIHR hopes, in this occasion, that government authorities in all Arab countries will undertake all endeavors to trace and penalize perpetrators in order to safeguard the security and safety of journalists, and that positive measures will be taken to provide for the exercise by all citizens and journalists of their right to transfer and share information and ideas, especially since all Arab countries (except Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) are signatories to the International Charter on Civil and Political Rights of which Article (19) provides for the right of every human being to free thinking and expression. At the same time, GIHR calls upon journalists to enhance, through their work, a more profound understanding of racial, cultural, and religious diversity, and to contribute towards the establishment of improved inter-cultural relations.

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