AUSTRIA: World Press Freedom Day

AUSTRIA, 03/05/2005

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East Europe (SEE) and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), commemorates today, together with journalists, media executives and editors in South East Europe, World Press Freedom Day. In 1991, the General Conference of UNESCO recommended that the United Nations General Assembly proclaim 3 May as World Press Freedom Day, a day to mark the fundamental principles of press freedom.

SEEMO is pleased that we have today in South Eastern Europe less direct pressures on media by governments than we had a few years ago. However, the pressure is still present, and we are especially worried about indirect state pressure. "It is important that governments and state institutions recognise that journalists have the right to work freely and independently," said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General.

SEEMO is also deeply concerned that the work of investigative journalists in SEE is often obstructed by local businessmen, officials or criminals. According to Vujovic, "The work of investigative journalists is very important and helps the democratisation process of the countries in the region. Officials, police and courts should take every case of pressure against journalists more seriously, and help journalists if they receive death threats."

SEEMO uses this opportunity to remind authorities in the region that there are still unsolved investigations involving journalists killed in the past years. For example, in Serbia, the authorities have not discovered the identities of the killers of journalists Milan Pantic and the owner and editor-in-chief of Dnevni Telegraf, Slavko Curuvija, and have not finished the investigation of the death of journalist Dada Vujasinovic. On 27 May 2005 it will be one year since Dusko Jovanovic, editor-in-chief of the daily Dan from Montenegro, was killed. It is intolerable that journalists and editors are being assassinated for carrying out their professional duties.

SEEMO is also concerned about hate speech, and the unethical or unprofessional reporting of some media. "Some journalists are working more like propagandists of a political party than like professionals. SEEMO sees as important the acceptance of professional standards and the education of journalists in SEE," Vujovic said.

On today's World Press Freedom Day we would also like to remember that three kidnapped journalists from Romania, Marie Jean Ion, Sorin Miscoci and Ovidiu Ohanesian, are still missing in Iraq.

SEEMO also urges governments in SEE to accept internationally recognised media standards, including the decriminalisation of defamation. No journalist should ever again be sentenced to jail for what he or she writes. Also, journalists should be free from persecution under insult laws that protect public officials. Officials should open the doors to journalists for free and easy access to information, but on the other hand respect the right of journalists to protect their sources of information.

Regarding its activities, SEEMO would like to announce issues of two SEEMO publications: South East Europe Media Handbook 2004/2005 and number 3 of DeScripto, a quarterly magazine of media in South Eastern Europe. SEEMO will also continue this year its Dialogue Meetings between editors-in-chief and media executives, with a meeting in October 2005 in Opatija with editors-in-chief and media executives from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as a meeting in November 2005 in Tirana with editors-in-chief and media executives from Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. SEEMO will also organise this year a meeting of editors-in-chief and media executives of private news agencies in the region.

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