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People Who Made Things Happen During Press Freedom Week 

By Yerima Kini Nsom In Washington D.C

The several panel discussions that UNESCO co-organised with the U.S State Department in Washington D.C and New York made this year’s World Press Freedom Week very eventful.
Many high-profile personalities enthusiastically moved and shook the event and made things to happen.

The Post’s Yerima Kini Nsom (second from right) with other journalists in Washington DC

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova and Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a joint message on the occasion in which they condemned the harassment of journalists.

Hear them: "Over the last decade, more than 500 journalists lost their lives in the pursuit of their profession. Sixty killings were reported worldwide in 2010 alone…" They warned that violations of fundamental human rights cannot go unanswered. "State authorities must do everything to counter impunity and protect the safety of journalists. We will never forget the courage of journalists who paid with their lives our right to know," they said.

It was within this logic of courage that the jailed Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeidabadi, stood tall as the hero of the day when he was declared winner of this year’s UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Even before matters came to a head in Washington D.C, the US Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, captured the event in her arresting verbal salvo.

"We are reminded of the key role that a free and vibrant press plays in the development of civil society. …We must all keep striving to allow journalists and citizens to share their opinions freely and openly everywhere," she said. The panel discussions climaxed at the Colombia Journalism School in New York on May 4. Dubbed "Life After Wikileaks: Who Won the Information War?" the debate provided a forum for panellists to turn the heat on the US government for fighting the free flow of information provided by Wikileaks.

It was the upsurge of an intellectual war with the panellists that included the investigative journalist and security services expert, Andrei Soldatov, Emily Bell, Director, Tow Centre of Digital Journalism, The Washington Columnist, Richard Cohen and prominent lawyer, Mark Stephens, all x-rayed the doings and undoings of Wikileaks that have been a phenomenal dispensation in the information world.

The Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, John Kampfner, moderated the debate that was watched by journalists and student journalists. In yet another debate at the Foreign Press Centre in New York on May 5, participants discussed the extent of press freedom in the United States. It was unanimously agreed that the press is very free in President Obama’s country where there are no laws impeding freedom of information.

Many countries were urged to emulate the US example wherein there are no criminal defamation laws. The panellists also pointed out that unlike in the United Kingdom where criminal defamation is still being maintained, it is expressly stated in the constitution of the United States that Congress shall enact no laws infringing freedom of the press.

Hospitality Agogo

The many of hundreds of journalists, who stormed Washington D.C for the celebration of the Press Freedom Week, agreed that there was some kind of hospitality in having access to information. "We had access to high profile personalities of State Department and we were free to ask any questions we wanted unlike the case in our countries," an Asian journalist told The Post.

Officials of the Foreign Press Centre, Jose Santacana, Alison Mann, and Andrea Corey made sure the journalists had access to all the information that they needed. Equally savouring journalistic hospitality in the US is one of Cameroon’s female journalists, Agnes Tailie, who lives in New York. Tailie was one of the World Press Freedom Day 2011 fellows who attended the weeklong event in Washington D.C. She is the Director of www.leseptentrion.net, a French-language news site that focuses on northern Cameroon. She started the site after leaving Cameroon in 2009.

Taile sees the site as a way for her to continue fighting corruption, poverty and the abuse of human rights in the northern regions of Cameroon while living in the United States.
Agnes was recognised in 2009 by the International Women’s Media Foundation for her courage as a journalist. In 2006, she was the subject of a vicious attack and abduction while she was reporting for Sweet FM on corruption and social issues.

She continued reporting after joining Canal 2 until 2009. She is one of those proving that Internet media constitute good fertilizer for the growth of democracy and a galvanising human rights culture.

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