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30 years after, UNESCO commemorates anniversary of Press Freedom Day

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Audrey Azoulay


Thirty years after the historic free, independent and pluralistic press summit held in Windhoek, Namibia, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has decided to return the conference to its birthplace.

The World Press Freedom Day has its origins from that conference held in 1991. The summit ended on May 3 with adoption of the landmark Windhoek declaration for the development of a free, independent and pluralistic press.

According to UNESCO, the 30th anniversary will be celebrated in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) from April 29 to May 3, 2021 in the Namibian capital. The conference, which is hosted by UNESCO and the Government of Namibia, will be a digital experience combining both virtual and physical participation.

With ‘Information as a Public Good’, as theme, the conference will serve as a call to affirm the importance of embracing information as a public good and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind. The theme is of urgent relevance to the global media, as it recognises the changing communications system that is impacting on human health, human rights, democracies and sustainable development.

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To underline the importance of information within online media environment, WPFD 2021 will highlight three key topics: Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media, mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies and enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities that enable people to recognise and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good.

The conference will also call on the urgency to address the threat of extinction faced by local news media around the world, a crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will put forward ideas to tackle the challenges of online media environment, push for more transparency, strengthen safety of journalists and improve their working conditions and support independent media.

Already, Namibia hosted a pre-conference event, which was meant to usher in this year’s summit. At the event, last year’s host country, the Netherlands, handed over to Namibia.

UNESCO’s Deputy Director-General, Xing Qu, opened the handover ceremony from UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. According to him, the event is an indication of Namibia’s commitment to host the Global Conference of the World Press Freedom Day as part of a longer-term process to promote press freedom and to organise an event that once again may leave behind a legacy and inspire the next generations for strong initiatives in this area.

“World Press Freedom Day is coming home,” said Hans Wesseling, Ambassador of the Netherlands to UNESCO, while he handed over the baton.
Permanent Delegate of Namibia to UNESCO, Ambassador Albertus Aochamub, noted that Namibia was delighted to take over the baton, highlighting that the WPFD event is not a one-off activity and that press freedom is an issue that people should engage with continuously.

He encouraged governments, civil societies and media practitioners to form a partnership that will ensure press freedom is protected and defended. He expressed his sincere hope that “the world remains free and free for all”.

When the line passed back to Namibia, Peya Mushelenga, from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, stated that in the context of COVID-19, “We will celebrate this significant and historic occasion appropriately, under the new normal. Namibia stands ready to host this auspicious event.”

The handover and kick-off ceremony held at the Government communication Centre in Windhoek on 8 October 2020 brought together Jennelly Matundu, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation; Sen PANG, UN Resident Coordinator to Namibia; as well as other representatives from the government, the media and Namibian civil society.

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UNESCO and the University of Namibia (UNAM) are hosting the sixth edition of the Academic Conference on the Safety of Journalists. The Youth Newsroom 2021 edition is being held in partnership with the Namibia University of Science and Technology.

The Head of Office and UNESCO Representative to Namibia, Djaffar Moussa-Elkadhum, disclosed that significant steps had already been made in the preparation of WPFD 2021. “Namibia is opening again its arms to welcome media professionals and journalists from around the world, not only from Africa, to celebrate in Windhoek the World Press Freedom Day,” he said.

Chairperson of the Editors’ Forum of Namibia, Frank Steffen stated that freedom and safety of the media is not something that can be granted only on a piece of paper, it is something we need to live up to, something that we need to nurture and protect, to keep and preserve as valued and unique human right as it is.

World Press Freedom Day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, takes stock of press freedom around the world, aims to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. It is a day to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world; to defend the media from attacks on their independence; and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

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