Letter: A forceful voice calling for independent media

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The Independent Online
Sir: 'Freedom of the press' is a much-prized concept of our democratic culture. While we may argue about the actual independence of our own media, it is beyond doubt that in many countries the 'freedom of the press' remains no more than a mere concept - elusive, empty words.

3 May is the second International Press Freedom Day, initiated by Unesco as the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration - a statement of principles for preserving and developing press freedom drawn up by African journalists in 1991.

Since the dark days of the mid-Eighties when Unesco's controversial communications policy in part caused the United Kingdom and the United States to abandon this major UN agency, Unesco has become a leading international force in the campaign to promote independent and pluralistic media.

Next month, Director-General Federico Mayor will be the first person outside the journalistic world to receive the press freedom prize from the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers.

Unesco's activities, such as training journalists from Central and Eastern Europe or co-ordinating technical and financial support assistance to Oslobodenje, the independent newspaper of Sarajevo, are now widely acknowledged in the international community.

As one of the world's greatest centres of communications, the UK has much to offer to Unesco and to the world in skills and know-how.

It is time that the British government caught up with the rest of the world and rejoined Unesco immediately.

Yours faithfully,

PHILIP SPENDER, Director, Index on Censorship; PETER GALLINER, Director, International Press Institute; ROBIN MACKICHAN, Director, Commonwealth Press Union

London, EC4

30 April

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