Twenty years on from the Windhoek Declaration: Freedom of the press in a changed world

On 3 May 2011, the IIMA Human Rights Office participated in the World Press Freedom Day, commemorated by the United Nation Information Service, UNESCO and the United Nations Office in Geneva, to celebrate the 20thanniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration.
After a short film on the World Press Freedom Day, Mr. Stéphane Bussard (Journalist, Le Temps), explained the importance of this day dedicated to supporting freedom of expression across all media, including new means of communication.
The World Press Freedom Day was born twenty years ago in the vision of a group of journalists gathered in Windhoek, Namibia. Today, the Windhoek Declaration represents a call to protect the fundamental principles of the freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration Human Rights.
In fact, the objective of the meeting was to focus on the role of media in promoting freedom of expression as the foundation for human dignity and the cornerstone of democracy.
The high level panel was composed by Ms. Navy Pillay (High Commissioner for Human Rights), Mr. Stèphane Bussard (Journalist, Le Temps), Mr. Steve Crawshaw (International Advocacy Director, Amnesty International), Ms. Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga (Journalist, Fraternitè Matin), and Mr. Mogens Shmidt (Director, Bureau of Field Coordination, UNESCO).
Nowadays, the media landscape has changed, but the UN goal remains the same: to promote freedom of expression. Today, more and more people are able to share information and exchange views, within and across national borders, in real time, through new and sophisticated technologies, and social network like Facebook, Twitter, as well as radio and Television.
At the same time, new methods to block and censor information emerged. All panellists remembered the persistent restrictions imposed by many governments to silence dissents and criticisms. In fact, even today, not everyone has easily access to clear and true information and governments follow to control media.
Today, technology probably inspired recent protests in North Africa and Middle East because people realized that they did not fulfil their civil and political rights.
Ms. Navy Pillay, in her speech, remembered also those who lost their life in the pursuit of their profession.  Several journalists in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, and Iraq, among other countries, were subjected to violence and torture, often deported, detained, and killed. This calls for action to defend the integrity and safety of online reporters. Otherwise, state authorities must do everything to counter impunity and to protect the safety of journalists.
Some journalists made a brief reference to the WikiLeaks phenomenon. In their opinions, it is important to decide when and what information should be publicized taking into consideration the sovereignty and policy of states. In fact, some information can damage diplomacy and interstate relations.
The United Nations is dedicated to ensuring that the Internet becomes a truly global public resource, to which all have access and where all voices are heard. This means that we have to pay attention to the quality of content and guarantee the freedom of expression also in the virtual world.
At the end of the meeting, after a brief interactive dialogue with the audience, speakers underlined one more time the importance of freedom of expression as fundamental human rights. In their opinions, the enjoyment of the right to expression can contribute to create a modern society, where everyone has a voice.