Speech by UNDP Country Director, Mr. Martim Maya on behalf of the United Nations Resident Coordinator World Press Freedom Day commemorationMay 3, 2017
World Press Freedom Day commemoration
3 May 2017, Freedom Statue, Lusaka
- The Honourable Minister of Justice
- All senior Government Officials
- Representatives from the media liaison committee
- Ladies and Gentlemen
Today is a very important day when we commemorate the World Press Freedom Day under the theme “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s Role in Advancing Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies.” This theme points to the importance of strengthening free and quality journalism to enable the media to effectively contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in general and of SDG 16 in particular. SDG number 16 aims to Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
I am happy to speak with you on three important aspects of media freedom in a democracy: responsibility, professionalism and the role of the media in helping citizens shape their future.
Guest of Honour, the media is today at a crossroads. The public space for information and opinion making by the traditional media is now increasingly shared with others. Social media platforms have grown exponentially offering the public an alternative to traditional media. This has given power to virtually anyone with internet connectivity to write their own stories, shape opinions and share them with the world.
This phenomenon has led to the extensive democratization of a space that was previously the exclusive purview of the traditional media. Today every single one of us has the power to publish or post something that can inform, analyse current issues and shape opinions. But this trend also comes with huge challenges in terms of false news, hate speech, extremist messages and glaring inaccuracies of events. More than ever before, traditional media needs to assert itself, to distinguish itself, and show its relevance by being professional and providing fair, accurate and timely information to the public.
In such a context, how do you set yourselves apart from the increasing information overload?
The media cannot play this role without media freedom and supporting freedom of information laws; as well as an accompanying professional standards and codes of ethics . Freedom of information is crucial in a democracy as it promotes accountability and scrutiny of individuals in positions of authority as well as public institutions. I am aware that for 13 years now, the media and Government in Zambia have been discussing the issue of introducing a Freedom of Information law. I encourage you to stay engaged on this. As the media brings out issues in the public domain, leaders and public institutions will provide better services, become stronger and more efficient, and citizens will be more empowered to actively participate in public life.
As the world makes strides towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, the media can help ensure that no one is left behind. The media needs to promote social inclusion because the SDGs are about the people and their participation. The 2030 Development Agenda aims towards “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels, which can be attained if there is universal access to information.
Guest of Honour, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to commend the Zambian people and Government for the peace that the country has enjoyed since independence. I urge Zambians to guard this peace jealously and not take it for granted. The media has a key role in safeguarding peace by spreading messages of tolerance, co-existence and the respect for human rights.
Guest of Honour, ladies and gentlemen, the last issue that I wish to address is the role of the media in helping citizens shape their future. Zambia is today faced with several social and economic challenges which we as the United Nations and other cooperating partners are helping to address by complementing Government’s efforts. The role of the media in helping people change their life situations cannot be ignored.
Among other issues, the media should focus on helping the country address challenges such as poverty, inequalities, Gender-Based Violence and other harmful social practices. Some of the solutions lie in social and behaviour change which cannot be achieved without the right information and communication reaching the people. It is only when people are well informed and given the opportunity to participate in their own development that a society can achieve sustainable development. The United Nations remains committed to its partnership with the Zambian Government in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
I will also like to underscore that the media has a critical role to play in helping to achieve inclusiveness by giving a voice to the voiceless so that they can participate in decision-making and have a stake in shaping their own future. Much as the media plays an agenda setting role and serves to reflect events in society, responsibility is key in ensuring that they give information that will build society and not break society; information that will heal and not and above all information that will help bring about lasting peace and security.
Let me conclude with by reading the UN Secretary General’s on this day:
“Journalists go to the most dangerous places to give voice to the voiceless.
Media workers suffer character assassination, sexual assault, detention injuries and even death.
We need leaders to defend a free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation.
And we need everyone to stand for our right to truth.
On World Press Freedom Day, I call for an end to all crackdowns against journalists – because a free press advance peace and justice for all.
When we protect journalists, their words and pictures can change our world”.
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And on that note, I would like to once again urge Zambia’s media to join in being the agents of change shaping the world we want, the world that we all committed to when we adopted the Sustainable Development Goals.
I THANK YOU.