3 May 2009

Press Freedom Day, 3 May, has, for a number of years, been a day in which journalists and media workers marked the deaths of increasing numbers of their colleagues around the world. This year, though, there is some relief from the unrelenting bad news.

The International Federation of Journalists annual report of journalists and other media workers killed in 2008 noted a significant drop from a record high of 172 killed in 2007 to 109 killed in 2008. In Iraq, which has been the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist since 2003, 16 were killed in 2008 compared with 65 in 2007. (See note on figures)

However, this decline in number is cold comfort to those who have seen their colleagues killed, imprisoned and attacked. The death toll may be decreasing, but press freedom around the world has continued to come under persistent attack.

One possible reason for the decline (in the number of journalists killed) is the increasing tendency of governments to deny journalists access to conflict zones. In three recent conflicts – Gaza, Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan – the Israeli, Sri Lankan and Pakistani governments respectively have worked to prevent journalists from gaining access.

Elsewhere, individual journalists face a wide range of problems preventing them from doing their jobs. From direct attacks by the authorities and others to the use of libel laws, journalists face often insurmountable obstacles to fulfilling the tasks that are so necessary for the defence of human rights.

Freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A free press is an essential component of freedom of expression and is equally important as a key player in the protection of all human rights. All of society pays the price when journalists are killed with impunity and censorship and fear stifle expression. These are the conditions under which abuse of power and injustice will thrive.
(From: Amnesty International)