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World Press Freedom Day
By: Ashleigh V., SNN Senior Editor, Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB

World Freedom Day

In our democratic country, we take our freedom of the press for granted. We never really think about what a gift it truly is. You can open almost any newspaper in Canada and see editorials insulting or disagreeing with our government. And that’s okay, because we have the right to speak out against things that we think are wrong in Canada. But in a number of countries, journalists don’t have that right.

I’ll bet that you didn’t know that last year 52 journalists were murdered in over 26 countries, that over 70 are being held in prison, and that over 200 publications worldwide were censored (WAN Website). If you’re like me, these numbers sound huge.

In order to recognize the sacrifice made by these journalists in the worldwide struggle for freedom of the press and to put pressure on the governments that still deny their citizens this basic human right, The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) will hold their 10th annual World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd.

Each year WAN compiles essays, statistics, graphics, and photos and sends them to newspapers worldwide to raise awareness about the oppression of certain governments who deny their people the right to speak or write freely. Their website (cited above) displays many of these pictures and essays. It lists the names of the 81 journalists who still remained in prison (as of December 31, 2000), the countries they are in, the “charges” against them, and who you can write to to try to get them released.

While there are no Canadian journalists in jail this year, there have been in the past. In 1997, Canadian journalist Murray Hiebert was sentenced to three months in jail for being in contempt of court, after writing an article on the frivolous lawsuits taking place in the Malaysian justice system. In September of 1999, the Appeals Court upheld Hiebert’s conviction but reduced his sentence to six weeks. Hiebert, who had his passport confiscated and wasn’t able to leave Malaysia for the entire two years, served four weeks of the sentence before he was released and was able to join his family abroad. For further information, check out this article on Hiebert.

In this year’s campaign, WAN asked various world leaders the question:

“What does press freedom mean to you?”
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien replied, “In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedom protects the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press. However, journalists the world over are often obliged to take extraordinary measures and work in desperate conditions to fulfill their commitment to a free press. We must never forget the important role that freedom of the press plays in supporting transparency, good governance and democracy...

On the occasion of the 10th annual World Press Freedom Day, I would like to pay tribute - on behalf of all Canadians - to the journalists and other members of the media who inform and educate the public on a daily basis and, in extreme cases, even risk their lives to give voice to their commitment to free press. Their efforts form one of the vital building blocks of a free and open society.”

So, on May 3rd, let us take a second to pause and think about all those people who sit in jail for their conviction that people have the right to freedom of expression. Check out the WAN website, and maybe write a letter to the leader of a country who holds a journalist in jail. Above all, never take our freedom of the press for granted.


WAN Website

Amnesty International article on Hiebert

Canadian Association of Journalists

Amnesty International

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