May 3: Free Media Promotes Free Society [Archives:2001/19/Focus]

May 7 2001

Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
[email protected]
“Journalists must seek and speak the truth, for we are the voice of the voiceless millions” Razia Bhatti, journalist, Pakistan.
According to a report released by the World Association of Newspapers, many journalists have been murdered in several countries and many others are still behind bars in some countries. The third of May is observed as the World Press Freedom Day. This day is devoted to commemorate the sacrifices made in the struggle for the freedom of the press and to put pressure on governments that continues to deny this basic human right. The message of this day is that journalists must be given the right to report freely in all corners of the world and about all different walks of life. It also marks a worldwide condemnation of regressive and oppressive regimes which still deny free expression. They also deny the freedom of the press as a fundamental human goal and try to silence journalists as well. It reminds us that free ideas, opinion and information, openly debated and discussions have to be tolerated, since they are a part of the most basic of human rights and the cornerstone of a democracy. In other words, freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press, have to become a basic element of democratic societies. However, freedom of the press is not merely a basic human right enjoyed by journalists. Rather it plays a very important role in the accelerating social and economic development.
I would like in this context to quote the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who said in his speech to the American Newspaper Association on March 25, 2001. “America’s hometown papers, whether large or small, chronicle the daily life of our nation, of our people…. Put it all together, and community newspapers do not just tell the story of American freedom, (they) are that story.” I would like also to quote the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, who said: “A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you can not build the public consensus needed to bring about change. Most striking, what sets the poor apart from the rich is a lack of voice.”
We, in Yemen, should not let this occasion pass unnoticed. We should celebrate this not for the sake of celebration as we always do on other occasions. But we should caution the government of its oppression against journalists. We should remind the people in authority that censorship still exists only in the dictionary of despots and dictatorial regimes. They should know that the most important detriment to freedom is the absence of criticism and that criticism is one of the vital elements of a democracy. We , on this day, should give a loud call to stop all kinds of harassment to journalists and to the suspension or closing down of newspapers. Governments of oppressive mentalities and censorship should know well that they can not, in this digital era, stop or deny the people the free flow of information in as much as free media is an essential source of information that is at the core of a free society
Finally, brave guys all over the world will continue resisting the abuse of power and ” struggle to provide a platform for opposition to arbitrary rule.” And as long as the determined people are there, the fight for press freedom will never let up. Happy days for all journalists all over the globe.