World Press Freedom Day 2021: Information as a Public Good
The World Press Freedom Day traces its roots back to the UNESCO conference in Windhoek (Namibia) in 1991.
The event finished on May 3 with an adoption of the remarkable Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press. Thirty years later, the historical link between the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and the public good remains as important as when it was signed.
The 3rd of May is a reminder to governments on the importance of fulfilling their obligation to protect press freedom. On this day, mass media workers reflect on the freedom of the press and professional ethics. Just as importantly, this day is a call to support the mass media that are the victims of constraints or complete depriving of freedom of speech. This is the Day for the remembrance of journalists killed in the line of duty.
This year's World Press Freedom Day theme, “Information as a Public Good,” is a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind. This theme is extremely relevant to all countries in the world. It recognizes the changing communications system that is impacting on our health, our human rights, democracies and sustainable development.
Freedom of information and press is a component of the right to freedom of expression. It is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and confirmed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in Articles 33 and 34 of the Constitution of Belarus. These international and national documents guarantee that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Report on human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 presidential elections states that last year journalists were regularly detained during protest actions. According to the report, from August 9 to December 20, 384 journalists were detained, 80 of them sentenced to administrative arrest, some were fined and 62 journalists were subjected to violence and beating. According to human rights defenders, as of today, 12 journalists remain in custody with three of them accused of criminal offences.
Over the period from August 9 to 12, access to the Internet was blocked in Belarus for 61 hours. After the elections, access to dozens of websites including those of human rights organizations and independent news agencies was restricted.
“I am worried by increased targeting of journalists and human rights defenders both institutionally and individually. It is essential for the future of the country that respect for human rights, and the broadest possible civic space, be established. There should be an immediate end to the policy of harassment and intimidation of civil society and media worker, - Michelle Bachelet said at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 25, 2021.
In this context UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also stressed that restricting mass media pluralism, suppressing free flow of information, banning opinions and ideas that are different are the instruments used to restrict all other freedoms. She recommends that Belarus stop suppressing the right to freedom of expression and investigate the cases of arbitrary and illegal detention of mass media representatives.