Sunday, May 08, 2011

21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers #WPFD

First published in The Nation Newspaper, May 8th 2011 (Sunday edition) 

Dr. Aliyu Tilde is an avid blogger. He started his blog “Discourse with Tilde” on the url in July 2009. Before then, Tilde was a regular contributor to local Newspapers. However, he said the idea to start up a blog came up after the traditional media suppressed most of his articles. Today, with over 150 followers, Tilde like many journalists and writers are consistently using the New Media as a platform of expression.

Although a strong advocate for freedom of expression, Tilde said Nigerians abuse their freedom of expression so much by the way they post abusive comments on social networks sites. “There is no other country where you will find such.” He said. There needs to be a balance in freedom of expression to foster a responsible medium of communication.

Tilde, from Bauchi State, was among 800 journalists, new media innovators, policymakers, and free expression advocates from around the world who attended the just concluded conference in Washington, DC to mark World Press Freedom Day 2011.  The three days event, which kicked off on May 1st, focused mainly on exploring the new media, its opportunities and challenges, as a form of expression.

Among the speakers was Nigeria’s Omoleye Sowore, the founder of who was recently awarded about $450,000 grant by Omidyar Network- a foundation committed to supporting media organizations. Sowore, while speaking on “Censorship without borders,” shared his experience about how journalists are exposed to threats and intimidation. He described the censorship of New Media by individuals, politicians and government as “a whole process of bullying and intimidation.” He affirmed that the new media has come to stay,  “nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.” He also urged all journalists to fight until the system (and techniques of censorship) is brought to its knees.

Other focus of the conference explored Business models for a changing media; Reporters, sources, and information in a digital age; Media Law and regulations etc. Noting the powers of new media, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called upon all of us, “to stand up for those who speak out in perilous circumstances as they pursue, record, and report the truth.”

Youth Leaders at the World Press Freedom Day
Highlighting opportunities and challenges of digital media for freedom of expression, on May 2nd, five youth leaders invited as speakers shared their experiences of using the new media as a platform of information dissemination.

Joining the conference via Skype, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada from Azerbaijan shared their experience of spending 17 months in jail for posting a video on, an online network, which criticized the government for spending huge budget importing donkeys from Germany. Hajizada, during his presentation, noted that there was no censorship of online media in his country, but the government was prosecuting people who used it as a form of activism.

Meanwhile, all the young speakers, including Shiv Bhaskar Dravid founder of The Viewspaper and Maria Sadovskaya, of European Radio for Belarus noted that young people who make up the majority of the population in most developing countries are taking the lead in using the new media as a platform for self-expression. For Dravid, the huge disconnect between older generation and the youth led him to start The Viewspaper, which is described as “the voice of the youth” in India.
Sadovskaya, of European Radio for Belarus noted that “young people are the least targeted group of population by the independent media and, at the same time, the most targeted by authorities…The government has introduced the state ideology courses in schools, universities and even kindergartens. They are trying to brainwash young people to make sure when they are grown up they are either loyal or at least indifferent.”

Young people are beginning to realize that nothing will change by being subservient and mum in the face of injustice and corruption. Young people are embracing the digital media to raise their voices and mobilizing support locally for positive social impact.

Taking it Global from Washington DC
Participants at the event took part in a global online conversation on press freedom, with tweets marked with the #WPFD and #PressFreedom hash tags taking on a particular relevance. News reports on World Press Freedom Day have focused on the unveiling of the Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2011 Map Report and the Committee to Protect Journalists most recent report, which explores the new tools governments worldwide, are developing to censor reporters.

News of the death of Osama bin Laden was reported as the conference was taking place, commanding the attention of attendees and shining a spotlight on the significance of freedom of information in a world of 24-hour news cycles.  Conversations around these current events helped to emphasize the importance of strong U.S.-UNESCO cooperation and the value of advancing the global conversation on common educational goals and cultural values, including freedom of the press. The point was particularly significant given the history of U.S. participation in UNESCO. The U.S. rejoined UNESCO after a nearly 20-year absence in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

As World Press Freedom Day drew to a close, Janis Karklins, UNESCO Assistant Director-General, Communication and Information and Maria Otero, U.S. Department of State Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, both spoke to the success of this year’s events.

2011 UNESCO Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize Laureate
The conference culminated in a ceremony honouring this year’s 2011 UNESCO Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize laureate Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi at the National Press Club. The award was presented in abstentia, as Mr. Zeidabadi is currently imprisoned in Iran.

In Mr. Zeidabadi’s statement he said, “…I would like to make it clear that in the performance of my profession, I had no means but my pen and my speech and that in using those means, I never went beyond the narrow and limited confines of the Iranian government's laws and regulations. But, in violation of their own laws and regulations, they have imposed pain and suffering beyond my endurance -- pain and suffering resembling those of a person who is crucified for weeks or buried alive. While in prison, I constantly strive to forgive, but I cannot forget. Finally, in accepting this Prize which is in reality a recognition of all prisoners of opinion in my country and my imprisoned or exiled colleagues, I dedicate it to my family and in particular to my wife and children.”

 The largest conference in 20 years
The World Press Freedom Day Executive Committee, which led the effort to plan the commemorative events, thanked everyone who participated in the historic proceedings, both in person and online. The conference was the largest in the nearly 20-year history of commemorations of World Press Freedom Day, as established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This year was also the first time the proceedings took place in the United States, underscoring the U.S. and civil society’s commitment to keeping press freedom at the forefront of the national and global agendas. The international conference culminated with a closing ceremony honoring jailed Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi with the UNESCO Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize laureate, for 2011.

The World Press Freedom Day Executive Steering Committee, including the Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy, IREX, and the United Nations Foundation, worked with more than 20 other non-governmental organizations advocating for press freedom, and collaborated with UNESCO and the U.S. Department of State to organize World Press Freedom Day 2011.

World Press Freedom Day events in Washington, DC are part of a worldwide celebration, with commemorations from Tunisia to Jakarta and Windhoek to San Jose. More than 20 donors from philanthropies, technology companies, and media organizations generously sponsored this year’s events. Tomorrow, May 4, UNESCO will host a commemoration of World Press Freedom Day at the United Nations headquarters in New York with Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, Alaa Abd El Fattah, editor, “Manalaa,” Egypt, and Gwen Lister, editor of The Namibian.
 To see Pictures of the event, click here

About World Press Freedom Day
World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on May 3 worldwide. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) organizes World Press Freedom Day commemorations to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty. In December 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. Since then, it has been celebrated each year on May 3, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles as put together by newspaper journalists in Africa during a UNESCO seminar on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” in Windhoek, Namibia in 1991. The declaration calls for free, independent, pluralistic media worldwide characterizing free press as essential to democracy and a fundamental human right.

World Press Freedom Day 2011
This year’s World Press Freedom Day conference will take place May 1-3 at the Newseum and National Press Club in Washington DC. It will feature innovative journalists, donors, and researchers who focus on digital media and the new opportunities—and threats—to freedom of expression that lie in the use of new technologies and social networks. The conference is organized jointly by UNESCO, the U.S. Department of State, the Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy, IREX, and the United Nations Foundation.

For a variety of views related to World Press Freedom Day, including live reporting from the conference in Washington, DC by Georgetown University journalism students, see

To access streaming and recorded video sessions from the Washington, DC conference, see

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