Archive for May 5th, 2008

Week 558 – 2008-04-27: UNESCO: Freedom of Expression, Access to Information, and Empowerment of People

Posted on 5 May 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 558 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 558

When some international non-government organizations publish annual reports about data concerning many different countries and ranking them – like the Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International – such reports are often criticized, saying that the people working at such organizations misunderstood the situation and therefore the report is wrong. Sometimes such criticism is wrong. Such reports are based on clearly defined questionnaires, used in all countries involved, and the responses are added up, sorted and published. Especially in the case of a “perception index” it does not make sense to say that it is wrong – it lists up the perception of people. The results of such an opinion poll say what people express as their experience of corruption. One cannot deny that they feel what they feel.

The World Press Freedom Report 2007, published by Reporters without Borders on the occasion of the UN sponsored World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2008 has been welcomed by the Club of Cambodian Journalists, in spite of the fact that Cambodia is ranked on the position of 85 of the 169 countries monitored. Such ranking is not decided by some staff member in the head office of Reporters without Borders, but is based on published criteria:

  • it relates only to events between 1 September 2006 and 1 September 2007
  • it does not monitor the situation of human rights in general, but only things relating to press freedom
  • the report is based on a questionnaire with 50 criteria – relating to violations affecting journalists (murder, imprisonment, attacks, threats), and media (censorship, confiscations, searches, harassment)
  • the report includes observations on impunity for those responsible for press freedom violations
  • the level of self-censorship is also evaluated, including the possibilities to do investigative journalism and to criticize as a means of influencing content is also evaluated
  • the legal framework is considered (penalties)
  • the role of state controlled and operated media, and their relation to independent public media, and finally,
  • for the first time violations of the free flow of information on the Internet are also considered; bloggers now threatened as much as journalists in traditional media.

Nevertheless, the ranking just in the middle of the scale of 169 countries is appreciated, as it comes together with the fact that Cambodia Has the Highest Level of Press Freedom in Southeast Asia. And Cambodia is ahead of the following countries in the level of press freedom – in the order listed: Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Bhutan, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal, Singapore, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, China, Burma, North Korea.

This is reason to congratulate this achievement. But as it is reported: “These figures and this evaluation satisfy us, but it also tells us that we must make more efforts to make Cambodia rank better.”

The Club of Cambodian Journalists identified some essential points towards this goal:
journalists must have the freedom to report, have the rights to get enough information, and have good working condition, without economic and political pressure, and
to assure this, to create and to adopt legislation assuring the right to access to information is essential.

This is obviously not only a question which concerns the media as a kind of professional environment. The message of Matsuura Koïchirô, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day points to the wide implication for a whole society which the freedom of the media have:

“Press freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people by giving people the information that can help them gain control over their own lives. This empowerment supports participatory democracy by giving citizens the capacity to engage in public debate and to hold governments and others accountable.

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2008, let us remember three things: First, the courage of those journalists who have put themselves at risk in order to provide the public with accurate and independent information Second, that press freedom and freedom of information, are the founding principles for good governance, development and peace Third, that new technology can provide enormous information benefits, but needs to be underpinned by measures that empower people to make use of it.”

That such a statement is not just nice words from a highly placed international public servant, but that they have a very practical implication is shown by a statement of a job consultant in an agency working on the so far not solved social challenge: how to bring those businesses which are looking for staff, and those young people looking for jobs, together. The experts criticize that neither the government nor the educational institutions have a vision how to handle the fact that maybe only one out of ten graduates will get a job compatible to the education received. But the job consultant criticizes also the young people’s weak points: that they did not orient themselves towards understanding the environment of their future life: “Seeing most applicants’ weak points, the consultant suggested, ‘Our youth must seek more knowledge from society, by reading newspapers or attending workshops, to gain more knowledge.”

That Cambodia is moving toward the fourth term parliamentary elections on 27 July 2008, is, of course, a special challenge for the media: real and non-biased information is very important for all Cambodian citizens to choose their representatives as well as to be the real owners of their lives and their fate.

As Matsuura said: “This empowerment supports participatory democracy by giving citizens the capacity to engage in public debate and to hold governments and others accountable.”

Without exercising this critical function, the media would fail in their mission. That this is not only difficult, but in some situation dangerous, shows that current monitoring by Reporters without Borders for 2008:

Since the beginning of the year, 9 journalists have been killed, 129 journalists and 7 media assistants have been imprisoned, and 63 persons are imprisoned because of information and opinion they shared on the Internet.

The Club of Cambodian Journalists does not just “report”, but it closes with human concerns among colleagues: ”Would like to send our sad condolences to the families of the 86 journalists and their families of 20 media agencies in the world who were killed. We also ask for the release of the 67 journalists who have been abducted, and we ask for justice and for the release of the 887 journalists in detention. All of them were either killed, abducted, or arrested while they were doing their work of seeking for real information for other human beings in different parts all over our world.”

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