National Press Club

National Press Club marks 20th year of World Press Freedom Day, May 3

May 3, 2013 | By John M. Donnelly |

The National Press Club commemorated the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day today with a sober reminder of how unfree the press is in most of the world and a pledge to keep working to change that.

Created in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly, World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3 each year and has three goals.

The first is to evaluate the state of press freedom. The second is to defend the press from attacks on its independence. And the third is to honor those who have sacrificed, sometimes with their lives, to bring the public the news.

Global press freedom is more the exception than the rule. In too many places, reporters are harassed, censored, jailed, beaten and even killed — merely for doing their jobs.

Since 1992, at least 982 journalists have been killed worldwide, and 594 of those murders are unsolved, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. An estimated 232 journalists are imprisoned today, the group says.

Sometimes governments are the source of the threat to press freedom. Sometimes it’s organized crime. And sometimes it is not clear who is to blame.

In Syria, for example, at least 15 reporters have gone missing, the Journalists group says.

American James Foley, a freelance journalist who has contributed to GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse, was abducted by gunmen last Thanksgiving and hasn’t been heard from since. Austin Tice, a freelancer for McClatchy News and the Washington Post, has been missing in Syria since August.

“The National Press Club continues to work every day to ensure that press freedom and open government are advanced in the United States and around the world,” said NPC President Angela Greiling Keane, a reporter for Bloomberg News. “It is past time for accountability and justice for those who use violence and threats of violence to exact reprisals on reporters."

The world must not forget those who, like James Foley and Austin Tice, are missing, she said. Or those who, like Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega, are facing years in jail on trumped up charges. Nor should it forget those who lost their lives, like Ahmed Farah Ilyas, a correspondent for London-based Universal TV who was gunned down in Somalia last year, she said.

For reporters, the U.S. is a far safer place than most. But here, too, there are growing threats to press freedom and open government. These include mounting efforts to monitor and intimidate whistleblowers and attempts to force reporters to disclose anonymous sources.

“It’s important, on World Press Freedom Day, for governments and people around the world to realize that thriving news organizations are not a threat to order and efficiency but, rather, keep society healthy,” Greiling Keane said. “Without a robust press corps illuminating problems, they can’t be solved.”

The National Press Club, founded in 1908, is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. Located in Washington, D.C., the Club counts among its members more than 3,000 journalists and news sources.