Helsinki, Finland, 3 May—The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, the Prime Minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä, and the Mayor of Helsinki, Jussi Pajunen, highlighted the importance of press freedom, freedom of information and safety of journalists as they opened this year’s flagship celebration of World Press Freedom Day in the capital of Finland.
Speakers celebrated the 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of expression and freedom of information legislation, promulgated by modern-day Finland and Sweden in 1766, and the 25th anniversary of the UNESCO Windhoek Declaration adopted in the capital of Namibia in 1991, which was at the origin of World Press Freedom Day. Gwen Lister, founder of The Namibian newspaper, who co-chaired the Windhoek conference on free, independent and pluralistic African media gave the keynote address at the opening ceremony, where she took stock of the achievements of African media since 1991 and spoke of the continent’s uneven media landscape and the challenges it is facing.
The Director-General, described World Press Freedom Day as “one of the most inspiring moments on the global calendar. It is a moment to celebrate the freedom of every woman and man to express themselves. It is a moment to shine light on the right to access and share information. It is a moment to stand with all journalists, to defend their safety.”
Ms Bokova went on to describe 2016 as a milestone for press freedom as “the first year in the journey to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The 2030 Agenda, she noted, includes SDG 16, to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.
The Director-General went on to denounce as intolerable the fact that 825 journalists are known to have lost their lives doing their job over the past decade and voiced indignation at the fact that less than six percent of these killings have been resolved. “I stand up every time a journalist is killed and insist on justice being done,” she said, adding, “I call today on every Government, to respond to calls for information on judicial follow-up. […] We must defend fundamental freedoms both offline and online. UNESCO is working to support the Internet as rights-based, open, accessible and multi-stakeholder driven.” she added.
In his welcome address, the Prime Minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä, spoke of the importance for Finland of hosting World Press Freedom Day and said that “because of the strong link between freedom of expression, freedom of the press and democracy, this event is also connected to the celebration of Finland’s 100 years of independence in the coming year.”
Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland, and the Director-General of UNESCO, led the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize-giving ceremony honouring freelance journalist Khadija Ismayilova of Azerbaijan. The President quoted the standard by which the prize is awarded. “The annual World Press Freedom Prize honours a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and, or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger,” he said, adding, “The Prize this year is awarded to Ms. Khadija Ismayilova, freelance journalist and contributor to the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe. I deeply regret that Ms. Ismayilova is not with us, but imprisoned.”
The Director-General of UNESCO, praised Ms Ismayilova unwavering commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms. “This is why the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded to Ms Khadija Ismayilova upon recommendation of the International Jury.”
Elmira Ismayilova, the mother of the laureate, read a message from her daughter in which she denounced the violence journalists endure for doing their work and encouraged them to continue. “Stand up for the truth, and dare to ask questions and be critically minded. Accept no excuse for political prisoners. Societies cannot develop without scrutiny and public criticism. Dissent is not grounds for jail, fight corruption and demand integrity and the rule of law from your governments and allies.”
The $25,000 Prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá, on 17 December 1986. It is funded by the Cano Foundation (Colombia) and the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland).
This year’s conference broke new ground in establishing the link between artistic freedom, media diversity and press freedom, as promoted by UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression.
Approximately 1100 participants are taking part in this year’s flagship World Press Freedom Day conference which continues on 4 May in Helsinki alongside some one hundred World Press Freedom Day events around the world. Concluding events include a seminar assessing the impact of development projects promoting freedom of expression in the Arab Region and an exhibition of works by 10 young photojournalists trained by the regional project UNESCO organized both with funding from Finland and Sweden.The celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2016 was organized in partnership with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the support of some 50 civil society and media organizations.
For the media:Press kit: https://en.unesco.org/world-press-freedom-day-2016/press-kit
UNESCO: Roni Amelan: +33(0)7 86 43 58 76
Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs: Mari Lankinen, firstname.lastname@example.org, +358 (0)295 350 642
Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture: Heidi Mäenpää, email@example.com, +358 2953 30230), for local media.