World Press Freedom Day and what it means

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, we remember that freedom is never free and that one of the most important ways to ensure lasting peace and prosperity is to defend the working of a free press.  On this day throughout the world, we recognize, especially, all those who have paid the price of keeping us well-informed of the honest truth, sometimes with their own freedom, and sometimes with their own lives. 

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, we remember that freedom is never free and that one of the most important ways to ensure lasting peace and prosperity is to defend the working of a free press. 

On this day throughout the world, we recognize, especially, all those who have paid the price of keeping us well-informed of the honest truth, sometimes with their own freedom, and sometimes with their own lives. 

Throughout a changing World, the definition of press freedom is changing, too.  Citizen journalists and social media users are playing a leading role in the drama unfolding today in countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

In many countries in the region - including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria - the internet is serving as a catalyst for journalists, activists, and citizens alike to connect with each other and share their stories and calls for change with the world.
 
In this new public space, crowded with news and chatter, journalists play an essential role in searching for truth, analyzing trends, maintaining credibility, and providing reports to serve the public good.

Undoubtedly, the arrival of the digital age – the evolution of the Internet, the emergence of new forms of media and the rise of online social networks – has sparked new debate about what it means to be a journalist, what role bloggers play, and what the effect of a blurring of lines between citizen journalists and professionals will be on the media of today and tomorrow.  We need to engage in these debates, not avoid them. 

With that in mind, we commend Rwanda’s efforts to engage in an increasingly public debate on potential, significant changes in Rwanda’s media environment.

We hope they will bear fruit and have followed with great interest the consultative process on media-related reforms that the government began last year and that has now culminated, with the report of a March 30 Cabinet decision to proceed with media reform across the board.
  
On World Press Freedom Day, we honor those professional and amateur journalists alike, on every continent, who have been brave enough to speak truth to power, even when that truth is uncomfortable for our leaders. 

The role of a journalist is that of a watchdog, a guardian for the guardians.  If a free press does not hold the powerful accountable, then citizens are often without recourse. 

One of America’s greatest journalists, Edward R. Murrow, said, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.”  We also must not confuse truth-telling with political opposition.

The greatest patriots are sometimes the most critical citizens. As Nelson Mandela once said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“When a free media is in jeopardy,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “all other human rights are also threatened.  In that spirit, let us continue to champion those who stand for media freedom -- and expose those who would deny it -- and let us always work toward a world where the free flow of information and ideas remains a powerful force for progress.”

W. Stuart Symington is United States Ambassador to Rwanda

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