Especially on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, our thoughts and prayers are with our many Commonwealth friends and colleagues who face censorship, intimidation, physical harm and, worse, death in the pursuit of their craft.
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 to join a protest and participate in forums without fear of retribution.
Those who live in Commonwealth countries such as Great Britain, India, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have press freedom and freedom of speech enshrined in their constitutions. But in far too many Commonwealth countries, despotic governments, thugs, tribal factions and others seek to suppress and muzzle the press.
Northern Pakistan, Malawi, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Sierra Leone come to mind according to recent reports in the CJA Newsletter. There are others with less-than-perfect performances, and judicial practices which need reform, particularly old criminal libel and sedition laws.
In the countries named here, Pakistan not the least of them, where freedom of expression attitudes diminish quality of life due to bad or weak policy, journalists also are feeling the pain. They are not the lucky ones of our profession, but they are among the bravest. We must salute and support them with our best weapon: well-chosen words, backed by sensible thinking.
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 whose craft is under siege. The CJA re-emphasized this position with the following statement contained in its final “communique” from its 2008 conference in Kuching. It is worth repeating:
“The welfare of our members is central to the work of the Commonwealth Journalists Association. We have documented evidence of journalists in some countries being abused by despots masquerading as politicians. We will expose and embarrass. We will lobby our own governments to pressure these
despots into treating journalists with basic human respect. We will respond quickly and with determination to every act of abuse reported to us and use the vast multi-nation resources of the CJA to ensure maximum publicity when journalists are arrested, tortured or even killed in their pursuit of truth.”
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers is a forerunner in supporting this special day. Newspapers and others can download messages, images and videos related to press freedom.. For more, go to:
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.
President Commonwealth Journalists Association