“A Celebration of 20 Years of Freedom,” exclaims a banner in bold, electric print on the website of the International Press Institute’s 2014 World Congress opening up this weekend in Cape Town, South Africa.
The message couldn’t be any clearer, a then-to-now perspective of the press freedom campaigner’s historic 43rd World Congress held in that same city 20 years ago, on the eve of South Africa’s first-ever multi-racial, democratic elections.
Two decades later, with another general election scheduled for May 7, much has evolved in South Africa, the media, and the world at large. “We recognize the significance of this 20th anniversary of the end of Apartheid, and also acknowledge [two] other significant anniversaries,” says IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie, “the 20th commemoration of the Rwanda genocide and the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web.
“Although the Congress and 63rd Annual General Assembly are being held in Cape Town, you can see that we have issues to discuss that impact us globally,” she added.
According to her, the Congress will explore a number of key topics, including: “the Chinese government's role in the developing world; a look at the ‘new’ South Africa and its media 20 years after apartheid; anti-terror and other national security laws and their impact on press freedom; and many other important and relevant topics. We'll also have some of the most important and influential media practitioners from Africa and abroad.”
Some of these influential media practitioners have been honored by IPI and named World Press Freedom Heroes in recognition of their courage and resilience in fighting for press freedom. There are currently 66 in all worldwide, the first 50 of whom were named and honored in 2000. Twelve of them are from Africa including Raymond Louw, South Africa (2011); Pap Saine, Gambia (2010); as well as Laurence Gandar, South Africa (2010). Others are from IPI’s first 50 World Press Freedom Heroes, including Liberia’s Kenneth Y. Best; Omar Belhouchet, Algeria; Gremah Boukar Koura, Niger; Gwen Lister, Namibia; Fred M’membe, Zambia; Freedom Neruda, Cote d'Ivoire; Pius Njawe, Cameroon; Percy Qoboza, South Africa; and Andre Sibomana, Rwanda.
Mr. Best, publisher and managing director of the Liberian Daily Observer, will attend the Congress in Cape Town.
One of the major events at this year’s IPI Congress is the launching of a book which has been produced in honor of the 66 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past 60 years. It is a coffee table publication that will be circulated worldwide. The biography of each World Press Freedom Hero and his or her reflections on their experiences in Journalism will be featured in the book.
In January 2014, IPI named, as its 66th World Press Freedom Hero, Iranian journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, who has been jailed numerous times for his criticism of government policies. He is scheduled to receive the prize at IPI’s World Congress in Cape Town on April 14, 2014.
Shamsolvaezin is the former editor, and in some cases founder, of four reformist dailies, Kayhan, Jame'eh (laterTous), Neshat, and Asr-e Azadegan, which were all successively shut down by Iran’s authorities.
He was jailed numerous times for his criticism of government policies, the longest detention period being the 17 months he spent in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2000-2001 in connection with an article criticizing capital punishment, which was deemed insulting to Islamic principles.
A former recipient of CPJ’s 2000 International Press Freedom award for courage and independence in reporting the news, he is the third Iranian journalist to receive the IPI World Press Freedom Hero award, the others being Akbar Ganji and Faraj Sarkohi.