Foreign Policy Blogs

World Press Freedom Day Somber Occassion

The United Nations has called World Press Freedom Day (May 3), a day to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty“. 2009’s celebration and evaluation will likely prove to be somber.

According to Freedom House‘s annual assessment of global press freedom in 195 countries (to be released May 1), there were “great threats to press freedom in 2008”. According to Freedom House, press freedom deteriorated in every region surveyed for the first time. Even countries like Israel, Italy and Hong Kong went from the organization’s “free” status to “partly free” status. A live webcast of the details of the report will be aired from the Newseum in Washington, D.C tomorrow.

Freedom House’s is not the only one calling the situation doom and gloom, other similar organizations are not whistling much happier tunes. The World Association of Newspapers is featuring dramatic stories of harrassment, threats, and intimidation endured by journalists and bloggers in a wide variety of settings. Their firsthand accounts from journalists are representative of widespread problems faced in countries from the U.S. to Zimbabwe.

Some journalism organizations are even taking issue with the country that the United Nations has chosen to host World Press Freedom Day this year: Qatar. The International Federation of Journalists is boycotting the choice.

In a letter to UNESCO explaining the decision, IFJ’s General Secretary Aidan White said, in part:

“The concerns that exist about the treatment of journalists in Qatar – denied the right to form their own association or union, subject to official controls over their freedom of movement – remain in place.

As a result, the IFJ is today informing all of its affiliates that it will not formally participate in the meeting organised by UNESCO in co-operation with the government of Qatar to celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2009.

In the past UNESCO has organised its World Press Freedom Day events in Colombia, Sri Lanka and Serbia, where media have been the victims of violence, and it has also held activities in countries in the process of development such as Mozambique and Yemen, but this is the first time it has organised celebrations in co-operation with a state that prohibits freedom of association.

The IFJ has visited Qatar recently and held discussions with journalists at Aljazeera and from the local media. Most journalists in Qatar are foreign-born. They have to hand over their passports to editors and require an official exit permit to leave the country.

The IFJ fully supports colleagues in Qatar, and we will work with them to get the government to change its approach, but we cannot go along with a UNESCO event that simply ignores the fact that journalists in Qatar are not free.”

The state of global press freedom seems to be at a low point. Yet it has never been more urgent that reliable news and information about the world reaches the public. Tenacious journalists will continue to do the work that they so stubbornly believe should be done, whether their medium is photographs, the written word, radio, television, or documentaries.

But those on the receiving end of the information would do well by themselves and future generations to pay attention to the one piece of news that’s dangerously underreported: journalists are increasingly at risk. And that means information is at risk.



Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a freelance journalist and contributing editor with The Epoch Times ( She also contributes to Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists and Her blog on journalism is

Genevieve has traveled throughout the U.S., Asia, Central America, Israel and the West Bank for reporting assignments, including major investigative reports on the recovery of New Orleans, the encroaching presence of China in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the dangerous import of melamine-contaminated milk into the U.S. and settlement outposts in the West Bank. She regularly reports on issues related to journalism, and the work of journalists.

She holds a BA from the University of Southern California in International Relations, and has been a member of several prominent national and international professional media organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the New York Press Club, and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband and son.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Journalism; Culture and Society