The European Union (EU) has assured the media that it would do all it can to defend press freedom and freedom of speech, and discourage all laws that will impede these basic rights.
EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, in a statement in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, condemned the increasing level of intimidation and violence that journalists, Human Rights defenders, media actors and other individuals face in many countries across the world when exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression online and offline.
She said in addition to the outright violence, “The EU is determined to fight against laws or practices that impose censorship, encourage self-censorship or provide legal penalties, including criminal, financial and administrative sanctions, misuse of market powers and poor economic conditions.”
According to Ms Mogherini, the union is determined to promote and support freedoms of opinion and expression as rights to be exercised by everyone everywhere, based on the principles of equality, non-discrimination and universality through any media, regardless of frontiers.
“Ensuring access to information can serve to promote justice and reparation, in particular after periods of grave violations of human rights,” the EU diplomat said.
She said the EU’s promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression will not only be offline, but also in relation to cyberspace and other information communication technologies as highlighted by the adoption in 2014 of the EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression, Online and Offline.
She said the right to freedom of opinion and expression is a key component of democratic governance and development, noting that people need to be fully informed to be able to form an opinion and participate in decision making processes that affect their lives.
“Freedom of information,” she said, “also contributes to better governance as it enhances transparency in public affairs and can be used as a tool to make governments accountable for their actions, in particular when access to information results in the exposure of human rights violations or corruption practices.”
Recalling the Windhoek Declaration on Freedom of speech and information, Ms. Mogherini said “The establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.”
Ambassador Tiina Intelmann of the EU Delegation in Liberia said while government has made significant progress in upholding freedom of the press and expression, more need to be done.
“Here in Liberia, the government is demonstrating its commitment to freedom of expression and opinion. The Constitution guarantees every person the right to free speech and expression although it also stresses the need for enjoyment of this right to be done responsibly. Unlike many other countries around the world, there are no journalists in jail. There are a number of private media institutions offering a variety of perspectives on domestic and international affairs. In 2010 Liberia became the first West African state to pass a Freedom of Information Act. This Act aims to ensure effective, equitable and inexpensive exercise of the right to access to information, and provides for a right to appeal any decision denying a request for information or infringing on the right of access to information,” Ambassador Intelmann said.
Additionally, the EU Ambassador to Liberia said “Despite Liberia’s admirable legal framework and political commitment to freedom of opinion and expression, a lot more could be done to increase capacity of information sharing and improve the quality of analysis and reporting. World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to raise awareness of the importance of high quality journalism, respect for the profession and to encourage Liberians to make full use of the opportunities they have to access information and express their opinions. After all, this is your right!”
May 3 of every year is observed worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
The celebration brings together media practitioners in their respective countries at an organized program to highlight issues affecting press freedom and freedom of speech and information.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day is celebrated in Voinjamin, Lofa County, where Liberian journalists under the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) have gathered to commemorate the Day.