Upcoming Event: World Press Freedom Day

UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day theme for 2011 is "21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers."
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Press Freedom Around the World

In just over a month it will be World Press Freedom Day. Celebrated on May 3, this internationally recognized day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom and evaluates the state of press freedom around the world. Each year UNESCO assigns a new theme and 2011’s theme is “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers.” Issues highlighted for discussion will include the new trends in journalism and the legal and regulatory perspective of freedom of expression with the rise of digital communication. Free expression organizations around the world will celebrate the day, raising awareness about concerns in their own countries and around the globe.

CJFE Evaluates Press Freedom in Canada

In commemoration, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression will be hosting a panel discussion, looking at issues relating to access to information. Last year CJFE gave a failing grade to the government for its performance on access to information, citing long delays in response times and federal entities invoking national security to avoid disclosing information. To find out what grade the government is receiving this year, and to hear expert opinions on the subject, CJFE invites you to attend our panel discussion. More details on our event will be available on the CJFE website in the next few days. CJFE’s World Press Freedom Day event will also feature the release of our second annual report on free expression in Canada, entitled “CJFE’s Review of Free Expression in Canada 2010/2011.” In addition to access to information, this year’s edition delves into hate speech, Wikileaks, whistleblowing and the protection of journalistic sources. One of the highlights is sure to be the Report Card in which we assess how some of Canada’s major institutions have performed in maintaining and promoting free expression.

Read last year’s edition, The 2009 Free Expression Review: An annual report on the health of free expression in Canada.

As 2011 marks CJFE’s 30th Anniversary, the Review will also feature an article outlining CJFE’s history, which began with a dedicated group of journalists campaigning against the kidnapping, torture and murder of journalists in Latin America in 1981.The article follows the evolution of CJFE as it grew from a small committee into an internationally-recognized NGO monitoring, defending and promoting free expression in Canada and internationally.

The Main Event in Washington DC

UNESCO’s main event for World Press Freedom Day will be held in Washington, D.C. from May 1-3. Hosting the event in the United States this year has turned out to be quite timely, as whistleblowing has become a hot topic for discussion in the country. In November, the whistleblower organization Wikileaks published 251,287 United States embassy cables through its website and news agencies – the largest set of confidential documents ever released into the public domain. A few months earlier, Private First Class Bradley Manning was detained on charges related to providing classified data to a third party, after allegations that he provided classified information to Wikileaks. Both of these events have sparked international discussion on government transparency and the protection of whistleblowers.

In a December statement issued by the U.S. Department of State announcing World Press Freedom Day, former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Phillip J. Crowley wrote “…we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information.” Crowley would later resign on March 13 after publicly criticizing the government’s treatment of Private Manning. Reporters Without Borders raised concerns that Private Manning is being used as a scapegoat, and stated the attempt of US authorities to prevent the release of the Wikileaks documents was contrary to the principle of access to public information.

The practice of whistleblowing is well established in the United States; famous informers have included Watergate’s Mark Felt and the tobacco industry’s Dr. Jeffrey Wigand. These American whistleblowers sent shockwaves through the nation with their exposés, providing information vital to the public interest. The United States has legislation in place, including the False Claims Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act, which provides both protection and incentives for inside informers under certain circumstances. However, the legislation does not provide protection to all professions, or to those who do not follow specific lines of communication. It should be noted that Canadian legislation lags behind the United States, with the Canadian Supreme Court first recognizing the whistleblower defence in 1985.

The False Claims Act was introduced in the United States in 1863, with amendments made over the years to expand its protections. As a nation with a strong history of free expression, CJFE urges the United States to take this opportunity as the host of World Press Freedom Day to strengthen its protection of whistleblowers and to continue to promote freedom of expression within its borders.

Take Action

Write a letter to His Excellency David Cary Jacobson, Ambassador of the United States of America, expressing your support of strengthening protection for whistleblowers.

His Excellency David Cary Jacobson
Embassy of the United States of America
490 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1P 5T1

Read CJFE's letter urging the American government to strengthen its protection of whistleblowers and continue to promote freedom of expression within its borders.