World Press Freedom Day 2007- Radio Netherlands Worldwide kicks off conversation
Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Today, 3rd May, is World Press Freedom Day. Around the world, journalists are holding special events to mark the occasion, and in the Netherlands the event is taking place here at Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Around 200 guests are attending. On our English website, you will find an article about Freedom of the press in Africa written by my colleague Hélène Michaud. In a separate commentary, The long and winding road, I explain why I think the former colonial powers bear much of the responsibility for the lack of press freedom in countries they used to control.

Last year, 2006, was the most savage and brutal year in the modern history of the media with 100 journalists killed. On World Press Freedom Day, it is clear that the profession of a journalist, especially an investigative journalist, has never been more difficult or dangerous.

Major international TV news networks tend to highlight the plight of foreign correspondents kidnapped in Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq. But the plight of local investigative journalists has become a serious issue too, with thousands of broadcasters, writer and media support staff facing intimidation and violence, especially by state security services and politicians.

As part of a new series of activities to mark its 60th anniversary, Radio Netherlands Worldwide has embarked on a series of global debates on the future of the media. Why is press freedom important to the public, as well as just those who work in the profession? What can emerging democracies learn from those countries who have emerged from a censored media landscape in the last 20 years?

Radio Netherlands’ Arjen de Wolff been working on a co-production with the Romanian TV news channel Realitatea TV on a what turned out to be a unique live 2hr debate on the current state of Romanian media. The TV programme was broadcast on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, and opened by RNW Editor-in-Chief, Joop Daalmeijer.

“The media scene is a lot better that in the days of before the 1989 revolution, when the entire media was under the iron grip of a single party.” explains Arjen. “Since the fall of communism, Romanian media has changed drastically, with a large number of stations coming on the air to serve the population of 22 million people. Some international broadcasters, such as RFI and BBC also have FM transmitters in the major Romanian cities. But its only in the last 15 years that monitoring
organisations like Freedom House have considered the Romanian press to be free.”

But despite the plurality of media, it is not always clear to everyone who owns what and how those interests affect what the Romanian public get to see and here.

The main conclusion was that Romanian media is developing along the right lines. But unlike in older European democracies, media pluriformity is not based along clearly defined political lines but rather on more obscure short term business and political interests.

The debate erupted when the journalists complained about the recent Romanian Constitutional Court’s ruling on the re-incrimination of slander and insult. They believe that journalists are being taken to the Prosecutor’s Office as part of a public show trial inspired by the political elite and the media moguls.

“More transparency is needed, perhaps with a public code of ethics which stations and newspapers would publish. The media in general are not openly accountable for what they report. If someone feels they have been misrepresented in the media, there is no clear course of action for the right to reply.”

The start of the debates has been timed to coincide with World Press Freedom Day. Points from the discussions in Bucharest will be used in Indonesia, Ghana, Benin and Argentina later this year, leading to a major international debate at the Peace Palace in The Hague on 28 November 2007.

View a promo for the TV programme in Romania: