Accra, May 4, GNA - Busumuru Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, on Tuesday said the continuing threat to the personal and professional integrity of Journalists ought to be the concern of all who relied on the media as agent of free expression and as an often very lonely means of rousing the world's conscience.
He said: "Let us pledge to do our utmost to ensure that Journalists - the men and women charged with helping us understand ourselves and our world- are able to do their vital work in safety and without fear." Busumuru Annan made the call in a message read on his behalf by Mr Alfred Sallia Fawundu, Head of UN Missions in Ghana, at a symposium jointly organised by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the Ghana Advocacy Steering Committee for National Broadcasting Law (GASCNBL), to mark this year's World Press Freedom Day, which fell on May 3.
The global theme for World Press Freedom Day 2004 was: "Press Freedom Pays" and the sub-theme for the symposium was: "Radio; Prospects and Challenges in Nation-Building".
Members of the Executive, Legislature, Diplomatic Corps and Media Organisations took part in the symposium, which was attended by student and practising Journalists, Lawyers, representatives of civil society organisations and a cross-section of society.
Busumuru Annan said last year, 36 Journalists were killed in the line of duty and 136 more were jailed simply because of their profession, adding that within the first three months of 2004, 17 Journalists had already been killed as a result of their effort to bring the facts, deliver first hand account of important events and to offer perspective on trends of the time to the public.
He said some Journalists were deliberately targeted because of what they were reporting or because of their affiliation with a news organisation.
"On World Press Freedom Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to the freedom and independence of the Media as an essential requirement for building a better and fairer world," The UN Secretary-General said.
Busumuru Annan expressed concern over wide and protracted media coverage usually given to traumatic events, citing the war in Iraq, which had preoccupied both the press and politicians across the world, adding that there were battles of other kinds against poverty, disease, discrimination, which warranted equal attention.
He said, "it should not take a full-fledged crisis to attract the media spotlight", adding that there were important stories to be told even in peacetime, about things that affected the normal everyday lives of children, women and men the world over.
Nana Akomea, Minister of Information, noted that freedom of the press was the bedrock of all other freedom, saying that freedom of the press gave expression to freedom of speech and freedom of association and it was through free media that people sought justice.
"The culture of silence that this country experienced between 1982 and 1992, was essentially the denial of the freedom of the press, when media activities were curtailed by the Dictators in order for the them to have the opportunity to curtail all other freedoms without any channel for criticism," he said.
He, however, called on media houses, particularly the radio station to make use of the freedom constructively, especially with their talk shows and phone in programmes where people called in and used inflammatory, defamatory and derogatory language against others for no just cause. Ms Adjoa Yeboah-Afari, GJA President, proposed that as a way of encouraging Journalists to focus on promoting peace, stability and civility in the media, a category on Special Prizes for Peace and Nation-Building should be introduced in subsequent GJA Awards Schemes.
Mr Yaw Owusu-Addo, Director of Radio of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), and Mr Fred Oware, President of Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association and Proprietor of Choice FM, both announced comprehensive programmes they had to offer all political parties competing in Election 2004 equal access to their medium for campaign.
Mr Felix Owusu-Adjapong, Majority Leader in Parliament, called for a close collaboration between Parliament and the media for effective education and information of the public, adding that there was the need for seminars and workshops between Parliamentarians, editors of media houses and hosts of political talk shows.
In a related development, the World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, in a solidarity message noted that press freedom was necessary for the alleviation of poverty facing 80 per cent of the world's population. He said out of six billion people, only 1.2 billion lived in countries with access to free press; 2.4 billion have access to a partially free press and another 2.4 billion live without a free press, adding that it was striking that the majority of the world's population lived without free press.
"This imbalances in press freedom reflect broader imbalances between the rich and poor countries.
"Some broader imbalances include one billion of total world population own 80 per cent of global wealth, another one billion struggle to survive on a dollar a day."
He said two billion people had no access to clean water, 150 million children never got the chance to go to school and more than 40 million people in the developing countries were HIV positive, with little or no hope of receiving treatment for the dreadful disease.
Dr Wolfensohn said World Bank Studies had shown that there was a link between press freedom and economic poverty, saying that corruption was the number one cause of poverty, but in countries where there was press freedom and corruption was reported in the media, progress was made in the fight against poverty.
"A free press not only serves as an outlet of free expression, but also provides a source of accountability, a vehicle for civic participation and a check on official corruption," he said.
There were solidarity messages from UNESCO, Institute of Public Relations, (IPR), Ghana, IBIS, UNESCO and UNDP, who were the supporting partners of the organisers of the symposium. 4 May 04