IREX Welcomes World Press Freedom Fellows in Tunis

Chisolm, Whitehouse and Fitzpatrick welcome WPFD Fellows

L to R: Stewart Chisholm, Open Society Foundations Media Program; Mark Whitehouse, IREX; Kathleen M. Fitzpatrick, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Thanks to the generous support of the Knight Foundation, I'm in Tunis this week participating as a Fellow at the World Press Freedom Day conference. This year's theme is 'New Voices - Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies'. I am surrounded by great diversity and feel very privileged to be in the colourful company of media and civil society activists from around the world.

Mark Whitehouse, Vice President for Media, IREX opened the session citing statistics from Freedom House's 'Freedom of the Press 2012' report - a grim reminder of the poor state of media freedoms around the world.

Only 14.5 percent of the world's inhabitants live in countries with a Free press, while 45 percent have a Partly Free press and 40.5 percent live in Not Free environments.

Significant improvements in the Middle East and North Africa and positive changes in Burma balanced the otherwise negative drift pertaining in most other parts of the world.

Unsurprisingly, Zimbabwe still sits near the bottom of the table, co-ranked 172 out of 192 with Azerbaijan and Russia. This is all the more depressing after more than 3 years of the inclusive government in Zimbabwe following the Global Political Agreement in late 2008.

Kathleen M. Fitzpatrick, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor stressed the importance of Internet freedom as part and parcel of Freedom of Expression, and underscored the value and impact of the new media channels facilitated by blogs, tweets and social media in general.

For those of us living in countries where access to the Internet is still a distant dream for the majority of the population, it is important that speakers recognise the contribution mobile phone services make as a media and communications channel.

Sadly, in all too many countries in Africa, the high cost of making a voice call considerably limits the mulitple ways in which this ubiquitous channel can be used for information sharing.

Are there ways in which first world governments and UN agencies can bring pressure to bear to address this state of affairs?

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation promotes media freedom by helping to safeguard the rights of journalists worldwide and supporting public information campaigns about the value of freedom of information and open government. Knight believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.