United Nations  International Telecommunication Union  







Remarks by Timothy Balding, Director General, World Association of Newspapers,

in the General Debate of the World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva,

11 December 2003


Freedom of expression and the free flow of information are the very foundations

of democratic societies, the societies which are best placed to achieve the

prosperity and peace which is the legitimate aspiration of all human beings.


Freedom of expression and the free flow of information are a fundamental pre-

condition of durable economic, political, social and cultural progress and



Freedom of expression and the free flow of information are powerful and

essential allies in the global fight against poverty, disease, corruption,

ignorance and illiteracy - and also international terrorism, which breeds and

grows in closed societies which outlaw open debate.


All these assertions have now been fully embraced by the major inter-

governmental organizations and are actively promoted by the leaders of, for

example, the United Nations and the World Bank.


The Declaration you are about to sign here in Geneva also clearly affirms that

these freedoms are central and crucial to the Information Society.


Unhappily, dozens of the governments which will adopt this text tomorrow,

mercilessly and cynically persecute the men and women whose job it is to enable

and to facilitate this free flow of information.  Thousands of journalists and

human rights activists are each year arrested and imprisoned, frequently beaten

and sometimes murdered, for trying to exercise their human right to free

expression.  The technological challenge of bridging the so-called digital

divide is not, I believe, the main issue.  The main issue is how we can bridge

the political and moral divide between countries which accept democratic debate

and those which repress it.


It is largely in the poorest, least developed nations where this repression of

information and opinion is most severe. In Eritrea, for example, where the

government has eliminated the independent press by locking up all its

journalists.  Or in Myanmar, or Iran, where hundreds of newspapers have been

shut down, or Syria, or Cuba, or China, which regularly sends cyber-reporters

to up to fifteen years in jail for calling for pluralism.  The list goes on and

on, but I shall stop it there.


A final word, however:  The next phase of this Summit will take place, as you

know, in Tunisia, a country that repeatedly violates its commitments to the

United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to respect

free speech and press freedom, a country where censorship is a way of life and

where journalists are harassed and jailed.


On behalf of The Coalition of Press Freedom Organizations - the Committee to

Protect Journalists, the Inter-American Press Association, the International

Association of Broadcasting, the International Press Institute, the North

American Broadcasters Association, the World Association of Newspapers and the

World Press Freedom Committee - I solemnly call upon the organizers of the

Summit to abandon plans to meet in Tunis unless Tunisia begins to respect human

rights, especially those of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. If

the second phase of this Summit goes ahead in the current environment in

Tunisia it will bring this process into disrepute and completely undermine your

Declaration's reaffirmation of the principles of free information and free



Thank you.





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Updated : 2003-12-11