In a letter to each of the heads of state and government taking part in the G8 summit*, Reporters Without Borders today called on them take up the defence of press freedom throughout the world. The organisation hopes that the Evian G8 will, to use French President Jacques Chirac’s phrase, "provide momentum" for progress towards a more harmonious and peaceful world. It is convinced that such progress will depend on the "momentum" that is given to the freedom to inform and be informed.
The existence of a press independent of any government is necessary to development, which is one of the primary objects of the Evian meeting. Press freedom is closely linked to the major goals the G8 has set itself: solidarity, responsibility, security and democracy. News is needed by those who are asked to give solidarity and by those who benefit from it. News is necessary so that everyone does what they are supposed to do, so that every person and all peoples can be actors in their own development. By providing information about other people the news helps to avoid ethnic or national conflict or a "clash of civilisations." It is also an essential element of "good governance" in any democratic society.
This is also the conclusion of a report recently published by the World Bank, "The right to tell." The Bank’s president, James D. Wolfensohn, said: "A free press is not a luxury. It is at the core of equitable development. The media can expose corruption. They can keep a check on public policy by throwing a spotlight on government action. They let people voice diverse opinions on governance and reform, and help build public consensus to bring about change."
Reporters Without Borders therefore urged the heads of state and government taking part in the G8 to:
Scrupulously respect and ensure respect for article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which proclaims the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." In particular, this implies the free movement of journalists and free access to all communication technologies.
Ensure that journalists are protected in unsafe zones; ensure that all belligerents respect the status of journalists as "civilian personnel" in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
Combat impunity for crimes against journalists and others who work in the news media.
Draft legislation that effectively guarantees press freedom and abolishes prison sentences for press offences, as the United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion has recommended.
The organisation reminded the G8 that 125 journalists are currently in prison, and that 481 have died in the course of the past 10 years, in most cases the victims of state violence, paramilitary groups or criminal organisations. These figures testify to the unacceptable violations carried out directly or indirectly against a human right without which the other rights cannot be respected, against a freedom that is the condition for other freedoms.
The Reporters Without Borders letter concluded: "It may well seem that there is a more urgent need to help the hundreds of millions of men, women and children who are suffering and dying because they lack food and have no access to drinking water. But it is through the news that we learn about such calamities, discuss the alternative solutions, and monitor their implementation."
* President Jacques Chirac of France, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, President George Bush of the United States, Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada, Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.