March 9, 2012 - WPFC's Statement on the Implementation of UNESCO's Obiag Prize
Statement prepared for delivery by Ronald Koven, European Representative, World Press Freedom Committee, during UNESCO executive board deliberations, 8 March 2012
As the European Representative of the World Press Freedom Committee, I’d like to focus on the implications for the cause of press freedom of implementing the Obiang Prize or the Equatorial Guinea Prize.
There are those who fear that such a prize would rub off negatively on the great work that UNESCO has been doing in championing press freedom. Protecting that major contribution by UNESCO to freedom of expression is an important concern of the World Press Freedom Committee. Anything that tarnishes that bright record under three Directors General in succession would be a problem for the UNESCO image.
The members of this Board were just recently all sent a letter reflecting such concerns by two dozen African journalists. They weren’t just any African journalists. I know their personal dedication and the sacrifices thay have made for press freedom for democracy, and for Africa. They are heroes of African journalism.
They include such courageous editors and publishers as Kenneth Best of The Gambia and Liberia, Gwen Lister of Namibia, Ray Louw of South Africa, Fred M’membe of Zambia, and Trevor Ncube of Zimbabwe.
They all joined in their letter to remind you that in Equatorial Guinea “domestic and foreign journalists are routinely harassed, detained and censored.” That country is one of only two in sub-Saharan Africa that are on the annual listing by the press freedom rating organization Freedom House of the 10 countries with the world’s worst press freedom records.
The journalists I cited have been in the forefront of movements for independence of their countries —and of their media outlets— against Apartheid and against police and judicial harassment of media, and other abuses of power. They have paid high personal prices in their struggles, with imprisonment, heavy fines, physical abuse, exile. They have been formally recognized by the organizations of the global press freedom community with major awards and commendations for their journalistic and personal heroism.
You would do honor to Africa and its heroes if you did not let the good name of UNESCO be used —I should say, abused— in a futile exercise to burnish a discredited reputation.