Winds of Change: World Press Freedom Committee's Mood toward UNESCO Is Friendlier

Article excerpt

It was kind of like international journalism's equivalent to the United States and Russia becoming friends after years of antipathy.

In this case the World Press Freedom Committee praised its former foe, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and UNESCO was supporting WPFC's efforts to promote an international charter for press freedom around the world.

What a difference WPFC's 15 years--and the recent collapse of Soviet Communism--make. Though WPFC was not exactly lying down with UNESCO, their relations have taken a decidedly friendlier turn.

"The international agenda has been turned from press control to press freedom," said WPFC executive director Dana Bullen.

"After 15 years we feel quite good about what we have been able to accomplish regarding the attitude prevailing at UNESCO," WPFC chairman Harold Anderson said. "I think it has been turned around."

Editor & Publisher editorialized last week that the change in UNESCO was "hard to believe."

The World Press Freedom Committee came into being in 1976 in large measure to fight for a free press against mounting efforts by Third World nations, with the support of the Communist bloc, to use UNESCO to further a "New Worl Information and Communications Order" in which, essentially, governments control the media.

For years WPFC fought UNESCO's support of NWICO, battling over wordings of resolutions and plans to license journalists. The United States and Britain eventually withdrew from UNESCO--taking their 30% of its funding with them--in protest of WNICO and other anti-Western programs propagated by Third World nations.

At its biennial meeting in New York City May 3 during the American Newspaper Publishers Association convention, WPFC's mood about UNESCO was positively positive.

Fittingly, the meeting coincided with UNESCO's first annual International Press Freedom Day, which was celebrated at UNESCO headquarters in Paris with speechless celebrating the trend toward democracy and press freedom around the world, and calling for redoubled efforts.

"UNESCO is clearly trying to turn the corner in advancing press freedom," said WPFC European representative Ron Koven.

While not all WPFC's concerns have been dealt with, he cited a series of concrete steps.

Last year UNESCO adopted a policy supporting "free, independent, and pluralistic media" in both public and private sectors.

It dropped support for the Communist bloc's International Organization of Journalists, the Prague-based group that evaporated with the region's Communist governments.

UNESCO increased support for non-governmental media and is supporting WPFC's proposed international charter for a free press. The charter will be presented for approval later this month in Helsinki, Finland, to the 51-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"If we can get the imprimatur of this international organization, it will have an enormous effect on other nations," said Leonard Marks of WPFC. He said he knows of nobody who is opposing the charter.

The charter was formulated in London in 1987 under the auspices of WPFC and other international press groups. More specific than the First Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, it sets forth principles rejecting censorship, licensing of journalists, discrimination against media; and supporting free access to information, freedom to operate across borders, and protection for journalists. …