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Preserving the Press: Commemorating World Press Freedom Day


On May 3, 2024, World Press Freedom Day will shine a spotlight on the critical role of journalism and freedom of expression amidst the escalating global environmental crisis. This day is dedicated to recognising the importance of free media and underscores the pivotal role journalists play in raising awareness and ensuring accountability on environmental issues.

The Theme of World Press Freedom Day 2024 is “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of the Environmental Crisis.” 

In today’s world, journalists encounter significant challenges in uncovering and sharing information about complex environmental topics such as climate migration, deforestation, pollution, and the impacts of climate change. These challenges are compounded by the proliferation of misinformation and attacks on the credibility of scientific research, which hinder efforts to address urgent environmental issues.

The triple planetary crisis—encompassing climate change, biodiversity loss, and air pollution—demands a robust journalistic response. Misinformation campaigns can undermine public and political support for environmental action, aggravating inequalities and placing vulnerable communities, particularly women and girls, at greater risk from the effects of climate change.

To promote sustainable development and informed public discourse, journalists must report accurately and comprehensively on environmental challenges and potential solutions. This necessitates a comprehensive strategy that includes safeguarding journalists from harm, upholding freedom of expression, supporting diverse and independent media outlets, and enhancing media literacy among the public. These efforts are essential to fostering a well-informed global citizenry capable of addressing pressing environmental issues effectively.

Reflecting on World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day was established by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following a recommendation from UNESCO’s General Conference. This annual observance, held on May 3 to commemorate the Declaration of Windhoek, underscores the vital connection between press freedom and democratic governance.

After three decades, the principles articulated in the Declaration of Windhoek remain as relevant and critical as ever. World Press Freedom Day serves as a crucial platform for governments to reaffirm their dedication to press freedom and for media professionals to contemplate ethical standards and the state of press freedom on a global scale.

This day provides an opportunity to uphold the foundational principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom globally, advocate for media independence, and honor journalists who have made sacrifices in pursuit of truth and transparency. It stands as a reminder of the fundamental role that a free and independent press plays in upholding democratic values and ensuring a well-informed public.

UNESCO’s Impact: Nurturing Global Press Freedom

As the UN agency dedicated to promoting the free exchange of ideas and information, UNESCO plays a pivotal role in nurturing independent and diverse media across print, broadcast, and online platforms. Media development is essential for safeguarding freedom of expression and advancing peace, sustainability, poverty alleviation, and human rights.

The Guillermo Cano Prize

Since its inception in 1997, the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize has recognised individuals, organisations, or institutions demonstrating exceptional commitment to defending and promoting press freedom in challenging circumstances. Named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist assassinated in 1986, the prize celebrates those who bravely advocate for press freedom, particularly in difficult environments.

Themes of World Press Freedom Day

Every year, World Press Freedom Day adopts a theme that reflects the contemporary landscape of media freedom, addressing challenges and opportunities within the field. Recent themes have highlighted the critical role of journalism in enhancing democracy, combating misinformation, and promoting media literacy in the evolving digital age.

1998 (England, London): “Press Freedom is a Cornerstone of Human Rights”

1999 (Colombia, Bogotá): “Turbulent Eras: Generational Perspectives on Freedom of the Press”

2000 (Switzerland, Genève): “Reporting the News in a Dangerous World: The Role of the Media in Conflict Settlement, Reconciliation, and Peace-building”

2001 (Namibia, Windhoek): “Combating Racism and Promoting Diversity: The Role of Free Press”

2002 (Philippines, Manila): “Covering the War on Global Terrorism”

2003 (Jamaica, Kingston): “The Media and Armed Conflict”

2004 (Serbia, Belgrade): “Who Decides How Much Information?”

2005 (Senegal, Dakar): “Media and Good Governance”

2006 (Sri Lanka, Colombo): “The Media as Drivers of Change”

2007 (Colombia, Medellín): “The United Nations and the Freedom of Press”

2008 (Mozambique, Maputo): “Celebrating the Fundamental Principles of Press Freedom”

2009 (Qatar, Doha): “Dialogue, Mutual Understanding, and Reconciliation”

2010 (Australia, Brisbane): “Freedom of Information: The Right to Know”

2011 (United States, Washington, D.C.): “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers”

2012 (Tunisia, Tunis): “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies”

2013 (Costa Rica, San José): “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”

2014 (France, Paris): “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda”

2015 (Latvia, Riga): “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age”

2016 (Finland, Helsinki): “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms”

2017 (Indonesia, Jakarta): “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s Role in Advancing Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies”

2018 (Ghana, Accra): “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice, and the Rule of Law”

2019 (Ethiopia, Addis Ababa): “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”

2020 (Netherlands, The Hague): “Journalism without Fear or Favour”

2021 (Namibia, Windhoek): “Information as a Public Good”

2022 (Uruguay, Punta Del Este): “Journalism under Digital Siege”

2023 (United States, New York City): “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for All Other Human Rights”

In 2024, amid the pressing environmental crisis, World Press Freedom Day underscores the essential role of journalism in addressing environmental issues, promoting sustainable development, and safeguarding the well-being of future generations. This event calls upon governments, media organisations, and the public to prioritise press freedom, protect journalists, and promote responsible and transparent journalism in tackling the challenges posed by the planetary crisis.

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