Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at the World Press Freedom Day Commemoration

Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator at the World Press Freedom Day celebration at Mountain Inn, Mbabane, on 4th May 2021.

Hon. Minister of ICT,

Editors Forum Representatives,

Journalists,

UN colleagues and in particular UNESCO team led by my sister Phumzile Hlophe,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Good morning to all of you. I am honored and humbled to address you at today’s commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day.

I would like to express appreciation to the Eswatini Editors Forum and UNESCO for joining hands to ensure that we are reminded of the importance of the World Press Freedom Day, whose 30th anniversary was celebrated around the world yesterday, the 3rd of May. As you may recall, on the 29th of April, UNESCO and the Government of Namibia hosted, virtually, the 2021 Global Conference to commemorate that  30th anniversary : it is my understanding that some of you attended that celebration. Congratulations and well done.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following a recommendation from  UNESCO's General Conference on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press held in Windhoek, Namibia from 29 April to 3 May 1991. Since then, , the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide on the 3rd of May as the World Press Freedom Day.

After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was decades ago. World Press Freedom Day serves as a reminder to Governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals on issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

As stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right. I quote:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Media freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people. Empowerment helps people gain control over their own lives. This can only be achieved through access to accurate, fair and unbiased information; representing a plurality of opinions; and the means to actively communicate vertically and horizontally, thereby participating in the active life of our communities and nation.

It is therefore worrying that, according the 2021 Press Gazette analysis of media freedom around the world has uncovered that70 percent of the global population still have very little media freedom. Censorship and intimidation continue to threaten the journalism profession and freedom of the media. Last year, an approximate 59 media workers were killed, whilst over the past decade, one journalist lost his/her life every four days. It is clear that journalists need protection: one journalist losing their life is one too many.

Across Africa, media freedom is tightening, whilst support for journalists and freedom of the press is decreasing. Nearly thirty years after African governments loosened control over broadcasting media and publishers, Africa’s media face ever-increasing threats. New laws implemented make the imprisonment of journalists more frequent; media houses are being closed down across the continent whilst Internet shutdowns are commonly used to silence the press.

It is vital that we continue to fight for press freedom: something which determines democracy and indeed, the future of our world.

This year’s Global theme for the World Press Freedom Day is: “Information as a Public Good”.  It is indeed of paramount importance, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, that information be widely accessible to the public, and that we look at ways in which the production, distribution and reception of reliable information can strengthen journalism and advance transparency across society.

Distressingly, at a time when accurate information is so critical for all to access, the world has witnessed a strangling of the press and media. Misinformation has become frequent; travel has been restricted, and press freedoms contained. We are at a turning point in which we cannot afford to fail our journalists.

However, with freedom also comes increased responsibility. I have noted that the 2021 theme chosen by the Editors Forum for Eswatini is: “Journalists in the frontline”. This theme recognizes the hardships faced by journalists to contribute to freedom of information and press freedom.  During the pandemic, while most sectors were in lockdown, journalists were out there gathering news and updating us on the latest developments regarding coronavirus, including how we can protect ourselves from the scourge. We have seen great efforts of collaboration between development partners and journalists from all media outlets to disseminate timely and accurate information to the public. SDG 17, “Partnerships for the Goals”, has proved vital to the safety of Eswatini. As such, I would like to thank you all, on behalf of the United Nations, for the incredible role that you have played by our side during the pandemic and continue to  play in to empower the people of this beautiful nation to gain access to information that, at times, may save or better their lives.

In this regard, we commend all journalists who continuously sacrifice their lives to protect ours. In his message on World Press Freedom Day, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, rightly observed that free and independent journalism is our greatest ally in combatting misinformation and disinformation. During the pandemic, and in other crises, journalists and media workers help us navigate a fast-changing and often overwhelming landscape of information, while addressing dangerous inaccuracies and falsehoods.

The United Nations stands in solidarity with the Government of Eswatini and its partners, particularly the media, as we all seek to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ultimately create “a just, prosperous and resilient Eswatini where no one is left behind”.

It is therefore more important than ever before to fight harder for the rights of journalists and media practitioners: supporting and protecting them from the risks and trauma brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The role of journalists as watchdogs of society and democracy cannot be underestimated.

As I conclude, I would like to remind you of the promises I had made during my vusela programme two years ago upon my arrival in the Kingdom. During my meetings with some of you, as you may recall, I had committed to working closely with the media and build strong partnerships to improve the quality of news and programmes to benefit the public. We started in 2019 with about four engagements/trainings on ethical reporting, gender reporting and a roundtable to celebrate 2019 UN Day together.

Some of our plans were disturbed by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. While we are looking at ways to recover better from the pandemic, I would like to stress that we are in the last Decade of Action and need to accelerate our efforts to achieve the SDGs in the remaining nine years leading to 2030. This year, the United Nations in Eswatini is proposing a number of programmes to empower the media to play its crucial role in helping Eswatini achieve the SDGs.

One of these programmes is a UN 2021 Media Awards to recognize journalism excellence in reporting on SDGs. This will include not only news stories but television and radio productions as well. The details of this initiative will be communicated in due course via our UN Communications Group (UNCG).

I look forward to many more engagements with you as we continue to build a strong partnership for the benefit of all Emaswati.

As I close, I am reminded of the great African proverb: “It is better to eat a mushroom in freedom than eat meat in slavery”. We must renew our commitment to fighting for the freedom and protection of the press, for they are the foundation of a free world to which every human being aspires.

I thank you.

Speech by
Author
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
RCO
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UNESCO
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization