Although fewer journalists are being killed and imprisoned around the world, organizers of the eighth annual World Press Freedom Day, set for May 3, say the need to promote the rights and safety of reporters and editors remains vital.
At a time when journalists continue to be persecuted in Latin America, Algeria and, most recently in war-torn Yugoslavia, press rights advocates contend that the annual day of press freedom continues to be a key element in helping to preserve press freedom worldwide.
"There are significant steps made each year, but that doesn't diminish the need for World Press Freedom Day this year," says Peter Whitehead, a former journalist in London and Hong Kong who heads the World Editors Forum of the World Association of Newspapers in France. "One of the main things we highlight is the international effort to seek the release of jailed journalists. Sometimes it can be like beating your head against the wall, other times you are successful."
Whitehead credits last year's World Press Freedom Day with sparking the eventual release of three journalists imprisoned in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Vietnam. He says their situations were highlighted during last year's events, which pressured those governments to release them.
This year's World Press Freedom Day takes place as 117 journalists remain imprisoned in 25 countries, according to Whitehead. The 1999 event also follows the murder of 28 journalists in 17 countries in 1998.
While both figures show a decrease, Whitehead says the problem of press freedom remains.
"There were fewer journalists killed in 1998 than in (any year during) the previous decade and that is due to a related peace in Algeria," Whitehead says. "But Latin America still remains a danger primarily because of drugs and the corruption between drug mafia and government entities who go after journalists who expose them."
The Yugoslavian conflict also has claimed the life of one editor, who was assassinated last week in Serbia after officials labeled him "anti- government."
Dana Bullen, a former Washington D.C. journalist and current senior advisor at the World Press Freedom Committee in Virginia, says that as long as any journalist is in danger or imprisoned, the pressure for freedom must continue.
"The killing of journalists continues, the jailing, expulsion, and harassment of journalists also continues," Bullen says. "This should stop. It is vitally important that everyone rededicate themselves to upholding and expanding one of the most threatened fundamental human rights in our world."
May 3 marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of principles drawn up by African journalists in 1991 calling for "a free, independent and pluralistic media on their continent and throughout the world."
The World Press Freedom Day has been acknowledged by dozens of press rights associations and the United Nations as a day to recognize the rights and needs of journalists worldwide. …