ITL #522 World Press Freedom Day: Africa's contribution to the edifice of human rights1 month, 1 week ago
The collective African approach that brought about this important day in the international calendar underlines that press freedom should be a universal right. By Alain Modoux.
As every year since 1994, the international community celebrates World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. The United Nations General Assembly chose this date in December 1993 to pay tribute to the 60 independent African journalists who met on 3 May 1991, in the capital of Namibia, and adopted the "Windhoek Declaration".
This emblematic text defines the necessary conditions for the existence and development of independent, free and pluralistic media. Noting with satisfaction the success of the African seminar, the Member States of UNESCO requested the Director-General to extend the Windhoek model to other regions of the world, first to Asia (Alma Ata, 1992), then to Latin America and the Caribbean (Santiago de Chile, 1994), to the Arab countries (Sana'a, 1996) and finally to Europe and North America (Sofia, 1997).
Like the Windhoek Declaration for Africa, to which they refer as the founding text, the four subsequent Declarations resulting from the four regional seminars were all adopted unanimously by the Member States of UNESCO without any modification – which is unique in the history of the UN system.
All five Declarations constitute the reference texts in the media field currently in force in the United Nations system. When asked about the positive vote of his delegation, the Chinese delegate to UNESCO at the time replied that, since the Africans presented the text, his delegation had no reason to oppose it!
Avoiding the usual difficulties
By choosing a region-by-region approach to deal with an issue as sensitive as media freedom, and by leaving it to the Africans to initiate and lead the process, UNESCO and the United Nations inaugurated an innovative method in multilateral diplomacy. This approach, which has been referred to as the "Windhoek Process" and culminated in the decision of the UN General Assembly to declare 3 May as World Press Freedom Day, has proved to be highly successful.
It made it possible to avoid the usual difficulties met in multilateral negotiations on fundamental rights, when the representatives of some non-Western countries oppose cultural and/or religious values and concepts to the universal principles adopted, in the absence of most of them though, after World War II. As the President of the UNESCO African Group said at the time, years ago: “The Windhoek Declaration is Africa's contribution to the edifice of human rights”.
The fact that this Day is the result of a collective African approach, first at the level of journalists, then at the level of diplomats, shows that press freedom is not a privilege reserved for Western media, but a universal right that all media should be able to enjoy, wherever they are and whatever information and opinions they convey.
Summing up a universal right
This right can be summed up in three words: freedom, independence and pluralism. In return, in order to retain public trust, media professionals set very strict ethical rules, particularly with regard to the verification of their sources, to authenticate the origin and confirm the accuracy of the information.
This work of verification, which is sometimes tedious and requires a rigorous process, is essential to protect citizens against the pernicious effects of misleading propaganda and disinformation, of which "fake news" and recently "deepfakes" (false images, voices or videos generated by artificial intelligence) are the product and are proliferated on social networks. This World Press Freedom Day is a unique opportunity to recall that press freedom is not only an essential component of democracy, but also the cornerstone of all our freedoms.
Alain Modoux, IPRA President 1988. In 1991 as UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace, he was in charge of UNESCO public relations in which capacity he organised in May 1991, in Windhoek, Namibia, a seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day in San José (Costa Rica), on 3 May 2013, Alain, then retired for 12 years, received from the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, the Duho Taïno medal "in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the creation of World Press Freedom Day".mail the author
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