While Reporters Without Borders was staging a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Paris on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, our correspondents and other journalists organised activities in many former Soviet republics to mark the occasion. A round-up of the more noteworthy events:
A photo exhibition entitled “Press freedom, the right to know” was organised in the capital, Yerevan, by the Armenian Centre for Freedom of Information in cooperation with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations Public Information Department with the aim stressing the need for access to information as a condition for free expression. The show’s 30 photos reflected the importance of the right to news and information and the state’s duty to ensure this right is respected. The opening was attended by journalists and representatives of state institutions and civil society organisations.
Independent Azerbaijani journalists gathered at the grave of Elmar Huseynov, the editor of the magazine Monitor and one of the country’s leading journalists, who was murdered on 3 March 2005. It has been a tradition to pay tribute to Huseynov every year on World Press Freedom day ever since his death. No one was ever arrested for his murder.
A round table discussion on Internet freedom was also organised.
Several regional newspapers published an issue on 3 May with the front page completely blank except for the words “Give us information.” A dozen media supported the protest, designed to draw attention to the difficulties journalists often encounter in obtaining official information. The authorities have often refused to allow access to information since 2000.
Although Moldovan civil society has long been rather moribund, several NGOs specialising in media matters organised a series of activities in the capital, Chisinau, to draw the public’s attention to the problems that journalists encounter in Moldova.
The Young Journalists Centre organised a flashmob aimed at highlighting the over-politicisation of the Moldovan media. The video of the demonstration shows a dozen participants wearing white T-shirts bearing the names of various political parties that were finally removed to symbolise the need for the media to serve the public and not politics.
A news conference at the Independent Centre for Journalists gave an evaluation of the situation of the media in the past 12 months while the Moldova Union of Journalists organised a meeting at which journalists were encouraged to rise to the challenge of independence while the authorities were urged to do their utmost to obtain the release of Ernest Vardanean, a journalist detained in the breakaway region of Transnistria.
More than 50 journalists employed by the daily Express demonstrated in the main railway station in the western city of Lviv. Chanting “Where are we going?” and other slogans, six of them chained themselves to a Russia-bound train from western Europe which they said symbolised the evolving press freedom situation in Ukraine since Viktor Yanukovych became president in February. Like the train, Ukraine was moving from the West, which had press freedom, to Russia, which had little. Already, press freedom now “exists only on paper” in Ukraine, they said.
One of the journalists read out this statement: “We protest against the attacks on journalists, we protest against the harassment of journalists and we protest because we want to live. We call for the safety of journalists to be guaranteed and for all the violence against journalists to be investigated immediately, so that all those responsible are punished. We demand action not words! Where are we going, Mr. Yanukovych?”
The Media Institute and the Union of Kiev Independent Media presented their list of “Enemies of the Press in 2009.” Ukraine’s attorney-general, Oleksander Medvedko, was top of the list. Yanukovych, who did not become president until February of this year, was tenth on the list.
Reporters Without Borders congratulates the journalists and organisations that organised these activities and hopes they bear fruit. World Press Freedom Day offers an opportunity both to remind governments of their obligations towards the media and to emphasize the need to defend media freedom to the public, which does not always feel concerned by this issue.