London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Journalists and world leaders marked World Press Freedom day on Saturday, two days after US think-tank Freedom House released a report showing press freedom worldwide had fallen to its lowest level in ten years.
The report indicated a marked decline in Turkey’s press freedom ranking, reclassifying it as “not free.” Turkey has rounded off its second year as the world’s largest jailer of journalists amid Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ongoing efforts to block access to social media websites in his country.
Turkish journalist Ahmet Şık was this year’s recipient of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, awarded by the UN body each year on May 3 to a person or group in recognition of their work to defend press freedom.
Şık was jailed in 2011 after being linked to the Ergenekon coup conspiracy. He was writing a book exposing the inner workings of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and his Hizmet (“Service”) movement, then a strong supporters of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party.
Today, the most dangerous country for reporters and other members of the press remains war-torn Syria, according to a report released earlier this year by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“I am in awe of the courage of those who risk their lives to tell the stories the world needs to hear. In Syria, the world’s most dangerous place to be a journalist, reporters risk torture, detention, abduction, and death to expose the truth and depict the horrors unfolding across the country,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday.
A joint statement, released by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, marked the day by linking press freedom to human development. The United Nations is set to consider a new development agenda later this year as the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.
“Journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues—from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peacebuilding,” the statement said.
The United Nations established World Press Freedom Day in 1993, in commemoration of journalists who die on the job.