Freedom of Speech, the Right that Makes the Defense of Other Rights Possible

Asamblea General

General Assembly of the United Nations. Photo on Flickr from user dnotivol. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

When in 1993 the United Nations (UN), by UNESCO's recommendation, proclaimed May 3rd World Press Freedom Day, it recognized that a free, pluralistic and independent press is an essential component of any democratic society.

But what does that mean?

Just as Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon points out, journalism offers a basis for informed debate on topics of public interest, the conclusions of which, made into decisions, affect the lives of the citizens. When an opinion is repressed or censored, the society loses a version of the facts and a perspective that is necessary for the resolution of its problems. This is why limiting the expression of one person affects the right of the entire population to be informed. Also, as Ban Ki-moon says, there can only be good government when journalists have the freedom to examine, scrutinize and criticize. The freedom of the press is not just a privilege, but an essential right established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that protects all of us.

The harm of attacking the press is that we end up without information.

Furthermore, speech is the channel through which we are able to show indignation or speak out against something that is unacceptable. It is, therefore, a right that makes the defense of other rights possible [es]. Consequently, in the defense of human rights, freedom of the press is vital.

However, today we must remember the freedom of the press in a troubling environment of violence, censoring and attacks on the freedom of speech of all citizens, particularly in the journalism sector. In many countries publications are still censored, fined, suspended or closed, while male and female journalists, editors and press workers are harassed, attacked, arrested and killed.

For our right to information. Respect for the lives of journalists [don't shoot at the press]

At the beginning of May 2014, Mexico was classified by Freedom House as “an unsafe country” for journalists [es]. Organizations like the Inter American Press Association, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19 and many other members of civil society [es] have called 2013 the year with the most aggressions against reporters, photographers and the media, recording 330 cases of damages against the press and the deaths of 76 journalists, along with 16 disappearing between 2000 and 2013. To this we add the current threat of internet censoring, also considered an attack on the freedom of the press, which is being removed from the secondary legislation initiative dealing with telecommunications that is soon to be in effect, halfway through this year.

Balean a director general del #PeriódicoNoroeste

— (@noroestemx) April 3, 2014

General director of the #PeriódicoNoroeste [Northwest Newspaper] is shot. Amenazaron anoche a periodistas de “Noroeste” en Mazatlán

— luis cardona (@cardonamex) February 24, 2014

Last night, journalists from “Noroeste” [newspaper] were threatened in Mazatlán.

Goyo, a journalist, was kidnapped a few hours ago. He may still be found alive [until Goyo appears].

Veracruz in the news again, new attack on freedom of speech against community radio stations.

Although Mexico has different systems and processes in place for protecting the rights of journalists, such as the Law for the Protection of Journalists, the Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), the violence continues, and it has brought about comments and criticism from the international community. A year after its implementation, international organizations agree that the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists is not very trustworthy. They have the same opinion of the Special Prosecutor's Office for the Attention to Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Speech (FEADLE).

Calls to redesign the Mechanism for the protection of journalists.

They show the 17 recommendations on freedom of speech that Mexico was given in October of 2013 during its second round facing the Universal Periodic Review.

AQUI las 17 recomendaciones en materia de #Libertaddeexpresión hechas a #México en el #EPU y aceptadas por el gob

— Claudia Romero (@Viraviendo) April 9, 2014

HERE are the 17 recommendations on freedom of speech made to Mexico during the Universal Periodic Review and accepted by the government.

Without a doubt, because of the censoring and self-censoring that attacks on freedom of speech impose, a lack of information is what we are left with. Let's take advantage of this day to thank those who bravely allow us to continue learning about different fragments of a reality that concerns us all, and to reflect upon what freedom of speech gives to us and means to us. How free are we? What would happen if nobody were to alert us of the health risks of consuming certain products, the environmental risks of favoring certain technologies and the socioeconomic risks of opting for certain policies? Journalists belong to a profession, but communication belongs to all of us. To what degree are we, as bloggers, Twitter users, and social media users, also journalists? How do I exercise my freedom of speech? And how do I allow others to do the same?

#UNP3MAYO la libertad de expresión no es exclusivo de la prensa. Es de todos. Todos debemos ejercerla sin miedo.Yo trato todos los días.Tu?

— Jean Cano (@jean_cano) May 3, 2014

Freedom of speech is not just for the press. It's for everyone. We should all practice it without fear. I try to every day. Do you?

Quienes trabajamos como periodistas no queremos que nos feliciten hoy, sino que nos respeten siempre. #LibertadDePrensa. #PrensaNoDisparen.

— Denisse Hernández (@jenytsey) May 3, 2014

Those of us who work as journalists don't want you to congratulate us today, but to respect us always.

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