By K.N. Pandita
Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. 3rd May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom — a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors, and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered. It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide. It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers” is the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on 3rd May, with major events in Washington DC and New York (USA), alongside local and regional events all over the world. The Washington conference (1 to 3 May), co-organized by UNESCO with the U.S. State Department and over 20 civil society partners, examined the growing role of the internet, the emergence of new media and the dramatic rise in social networking in recent years. The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, opened the conference. On 3 May, Ms Bokova awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize. Imprisoned Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi is the winner of this year’s prize. This year’s World Press Freedom Day also marks the 20th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration for the promotion of free and pluralistic media. The Declaration was adopted after a conference held in Windhoek (Namibia) on the development of a free African press. It emphasized the importance of an independent press for the development and preservation of democracy and economic development. Two years later, the UN General Assembly established World Press Freedom Day.
The occasion was also commemorated in our state both at Jammu and in Kashmir. It is a matter of satisfaction that we in India are gifted with democratic system which ensures the freedom and independence of the fourth estate. Indian press is considered a good example of free press in the developing world with a reach to all aspects of society. India’s contribution to the freedom of media is next to none when considered in the overall picture of this vast heterogeneous country. We have a fairly developed vernacular press and media caters to peoples’ needs in their regional or local languages. In particular, Jammu and Kashmir State has been the beneficiary of freedom of press even during a period of turmoil and unrest. No paper has been banned and no channel suspended. It will be observed that one section of the print media, particular in the State, has been regularly very critical of the government and some of its institutions allegedly denying freedom of expression. The fact of the matter is that those who criticize the government enjoy the maximum of freedom to do so and still they cry wolf. This is an interesting aspect of freedom of press. There are dailies in our state that are replete with one sided news and commentaries on terrorism-related issues. There are staunch supporters and sympathizers of militancy and anti-social elements basking in the warmth of the freedom of press. But these could be only stray examples and are insignificant in the overall context. By and large the print media in our state is astute and unbiased trying to bring impartial news and views to the reading public. This is a very healthy sign for the strengthening of democratic arrangement in our state.