Statement from the Commonwealth Journalists Association World Press Freedom Day, May 3

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, our thoughts and prayers will be with our many Commonwealth friends and colleagues who face censorship, intimidation, physical harm and, worse, death in the pursuit of their craft. The International Press Institute has been keeping records of journalists who have died while doing their jobs. The total since 1997 stands at more than 920, including a staggering 110 who lost their lives in 2009. Thirty-two of those died in a single day in the Philippines last November when a convoy they were riding in was attacked by gunmen.
The Newseum in Washington, D.C., has a journalists’ memorial that lists an estimated 2,000 journalists worldwide who have died since 1837. The vast majority of those have been in recent times. In light of the tragic numbers, the CJA cannot overstate the fact that a free press and freedom of speech constitute the strongest pillars of a democracy. People from all walks of life, religions, and political stripes are free to disseminate ideas, thoughts and information; they are free to report on and publish and broadcast supporting or dissenting views of the government of the day; they are free to stroll the streets and participate in forums without fear of retribution.
But in far too many Commonwealth countries, despotic governments, thugs, tribal factions and others seek to suppress and muzzle the press. Fiji, Sri Lanka, and The Gambia are perennial problem spots and indeed dangerous countries to be a journalist. There are others with less-than-perfect performances, and judicial practices which need reform, particularly old criminal libel and sedition laws. Journalists throughout the Commonwealth can take comfort in knowing that the CJA will be on their side, to the greatest extent possible. We will continue to press for and foster press freedom with support for our colleagues. The CJA re-emphasized this position with the following statement issued at the Peace and Conflict Assembly at the Commonwealth Peoples’ Forum in Trinidad in November of 2009. This was the first time that the CJA has been able to have its voice heard so prominently at such a forum.
It stated:
“We urge Commonwealth leaders to unequivocally condemn, and intercede where practical, the systematic abuse of journalists and explicitly recognize in their communique that the news media are a crucial element of the fundamental political principles of the Commonwealth.”
“Freedom of expression and the right to know are vital to successful democratic governance. A free and independent media assists in upholding assists in upholding those principles but is under siege in so many Commonwealth countries.
“Since the last CHOGM, journalists in several countries have been killed while others have been subject to beatings, kidnappings, intimidation of families and closure of their news outlets.
“An increasing number of laws are being crafted to deliberately limit access and dissemination of information and curb freedom of expression and the right to know. This is more the norm than the exception. In particular, we point to countries which continue to retain criminal defamation on their books.”
The World Press Association is a forerunner in supporting this special day. Newspapers and others can download messages, images and videos related to press freedom. For more, click here:

I also appeal to CJA branches across the Commonwealth to observe the World Press Freedom Day by holding seminars, meetings, etc. We should let our colleagues in all countries know that we are with them. There will be no compromise on press freedom.


Warm wishes
Hassan Shahriar
Commonwealth Journalists Association

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