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Commonwealth Journalists' Association

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Violence and censorship are still daily threats for too many journalists, said the President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association in a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

“The Commonwealth Journalists Association unanimously condemns instances of state repression against media reported out of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and some African member states of the Commonwealth,” said Rita Payne, underlining the consensus of a recent CJA conference on Threats to Democracy.

With some Commonwealth countries including India and Pakistan resisting a draft UN Action Plan on Safety of Journalists, the CJA warns that democracy itself is under threat due to constraints on the ability of journalists to operate.

Putting action to words, the CJA has endorsed the Table Mountain Declaration, aimed at abolishing criminal defamation and promoting a free press in Africa.

“Without a free press and freedom of expression, governments can impose bad policy and abuse power with impunity,” Payne said today.

“The result is diminished quality of life. Journalists in these circumstances are not the lucky ones of our profession, but they are among the bravest. We must salute and support them with our best weapon: well-chosen words and determination to stand up for the inalienable rights of journalists everywhere who face violence or persecution for their profession.

Worldwide statistics paint a grim picture of the way journalists are targeted and prevented from doing their job of reporting on government and society:

Monitoring agencies report 179 journalists were imprisoned world-wide last year, up from 145 the previous year.

Another 67 were killed 2011; 17 more so far this year. They were murdered, killed on dangerous assignments or died in crossfire.

Wars and the uprisings of the Arab Spring claimed many journalists in 2011. But even outside of conflict zones some of our Commonwealth colleagues face threatening conditions in their every day work.

Pakistan is rated among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. South Africa has enacted strict censorship measures that limit reporting of corruption and attempt to control the press. There are others with less-than-perfect performances, and judicial practices which need reform.

The CJA is active in bringing these issues to the world stage. Its efforts are global, with CJA branches in Pakistan, Sarawak, Uganda, Cameroon, India and Britain among those holding educational workshops and awareness-raising events to mark World Press Freedom Day.

“A free press and freedom of speech constitute the strongest pillars of a democracy,” Payne said.

“It is time for all Commonwealth countries to uphold the same values of a civil society. The onus here is on governments. Press freedom and freedom of speech must be protected and promoted.”

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