Ban Ki-moon (AP)
Ban Ki-moon (AP)

U.N. secretary-general commits to defending press freedom

New York, June 23, 2011– Press freedom, particularly free expression online, will be a priority for newly re-elected U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. chief pledged today in a meeting with the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

The heads of both organizations said they were encouraged by statements made by the secretary-general in support of press freedom during the upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The uprisings in the Middle East have demonstrated that people all over the world are hungry for information and cherish their ability to communicate with one another,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This is a basic human aspiration grounded in international law.”

The organizations asked Ban, who at the beginning of his first term pledged to support journalists working in dangerous conditions, to use his new mandate to expand support for press freedom everywhere. Ban assured the delegation that addressing individual cases of press violations is a priority.

“The Internet, as a space for the free flow of information and ideas, is inextricably linked to free speech and the development of our societies,” said Simon. “U.N. member states have a responsibility to their citizens to keep it free.” In 2010, more than half of imprisoned journalists were working online, according to CPJ statistics. The delegation asked the secretary-general to build on his message issued on World Press Freedom Day in May by addressing cyber-attacks, censorship laws, and restriction of the Internet through regulation or the use of state power.

“We urged the secretary-general to strongly defend the journalists and bloggers currently detained or harassed in countries such as Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya,” said Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Jean-Francois Julliard. “We asked him to do whatever he can to stop the repression and protect all those who want to use their right of free expression. We raised the crucial need to protect free speech online, reminding him that one Internet user out of three in the world does not have access to a free Web.”

CPJ and RSF welcomed the appointment of a special rapporteur for human rights in Iran and asked for the secretary-general’s assistance in the case of two French journalists who were kidnapped over a year ago in Afghanistan. The case of a Syrian blogger believed to have perished in custody was also mentioned.