The media, he said, must find the strategies whereby they can remain independent and responsible and at the same time avoid not relying on the piper that calls the tune. This in connection with one of the issues being discussed by the conference about media houses being rewarded or punished by governments and industries through advertising.
Calling the media the Fourth Estate, he said it faces a definite competition with the Internet, which he described as “The Fifth Estate.” But, President Richards insisted, the Internet can never, in his opinion, replace Journalism. He called on the schools and other educational institutions to teach the importance of press freedom and the role of the press, so that the public will come to understand and appreciate fully the role of the media in society.
President Richards also called for the world to grant immunity to journalists in the exercise of their professional duties similar to what the Red Cross enjoys. President Richards lamented that so many journalists have been killed in this year alone in the exercise of their professional duties. This he described as a very serious threat to press freedom and the free flow of information.
Delivering her annual report on “The State of Press Freedom Worldwide,” the executive director of IPI, Alison Bethel McKenzie said that this year was again proving to be a bloody year for journalist. Citing 2009 as the “grimmest” year ever for journalist, in which 110 journalists were killed and 2011 as the second-worst on record in which 102 journalists were killed, McKenzie said that so far this year, 72 journalist had been killed.
“It is deeply disturbing that in a year still massively impacted by the once unimaginable - the overthrow of brutal Arab regimes through people, and media power - journalists are dying on the job in record numbers,” McKenzie lamented.
Naming Syria as the most lethal country in the world for journalists, where there is an ongoing civil conflict, McKenzie said that 20 journalists and citizen reporters had been killed as a result of the ensuing civil conflict.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the IPI executive director said that Somalia remains the most lethal country for journalists, where six journalists have been killed since the beginning of the year.
Referring to press freedom in Liberia, McKenzie however commended President Sirleaf for pledging to work toward the repeal of criminal defamation laws in Liberia.
“In a speech on May 3 World Press Freedom Day, President Johnson Sirleaf endorsed the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and insult laws across the African continent,” McKenzie intimated.
The 63rd Annual Assembly of the International Press Institute got off to an impressive start in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, with over 300 delegates, representing over 120 countries in which IPI has membership are in attendance.
Africa is being fully represented at the IPI Assembly. Leading the African delegation is Mr. Malam Ismaila Isa, chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria and currently chairman of the Bulet Construction Company, based in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. He is accompanied by his wife.
Also in attendance is Joseph Kulam Gwa, chief editor of Habarileo, part of the Tanzania Standard Newspapers in Dar es Salaam.
The Liberian Observer’s Kenneth Y. Best is also in Port of Spain for the Assembly, accompanied by his wife Mae Gene.