2024 WPFD EU Ambassador to the Pacific opening remarks


World Press Freedom Day

EU Delegation – Keynote speech

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Dr Sivendra Michael

USP Head of Journalism, Associate Professor Dr Shailendra Singh

Distinguished guests, esteemed journalists, faculty members, and most importantly, journalism students,

A very good evening to all of you. It is a privilege to be here to celebrate World Press Freedom Day with you. Thank you very much to USP and Dr. Singh for hosting us.

Media freedom is a cornerstone of democracy and lies at the heart of EU values and action. Journalists, media workers and free and independent media play a crucial role in protecting our democracies. This year, the day is dedicated to highlighting the significance of journalism amidst the current global environmental crisis.

I will come back to the very important theme of this year’s Press Freedom Day in a moment, but would like to first say a few words about initiatives to protect and promote media freedom in the European Union.

Independent and pluralistic media continue to face challenges also in the EU, like everywhere in the world, and it is very clear that we cannot be complacent but must continuously ensure to safeguard media freedom and pluralism. In Europe we know the risks of societies without press freedom and thriving journalistic environments. In our own countries and our neighbours, misinformation, disinformation and fake news aimed at destabilising entire societies are a constant threat that require continuous alertness and attention.

We are therefore pioneering new legal frameworks to strengthen press freedom within the European Union:

  • Firstly we have recently adopted a so called Anti SLAPP directive. SLAPPs – or strategic lawsuits against public participation – are unfounded or abusive court proceedings. They are used against journalists, human rights defenders and others to prevent, restrict or penalise their engagement on issues of public interest. Our new Anti-SLAPP legislation safeguards journalists from such lawsuits designed to censor reporting on issues of public interest.
  • Secondly, the ground-breaking European Media Freedom Act adopted in March this year will establish a common framework for media services in the EU’s internal market. It will also introduce measures aimed at protecting journalists and media providers from political interference. And it will make it easier for them to operate across the EU’s internal borders.

Here in the Pacific, although constraints and challenges exist for journalists, there are also many heartening examples of growing and flourishing media landscapes that deserve to be celebrated and promoted. And all of you here today, especially the students, are an exciting part of the future of journalism here in the region.

The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day – “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis” reminds us of the vital role media plays in raising awareness and driving action on global challenges like climate change and environmental degradation. These are topics equally of concern to the EU and the Pacific, where climate change and the protection of our environment are at the core of political thinking and policymaking – something that we share even when we are on opposite sides of the globe, and a key area of cooperation between the EU and Pacific countries on the global stage.

Journalists have an immense responsibility of being the eyes and ears on the ground, verifying facts, scrutinising those in power, and amplifying marginalised voices.  Here in the Pacific, you know better than almost anywhere in the world what climate change looks and feels like and what are the risks that lie ahead. You as journalists, who are reporting from the Pacific, play a key role as the world’s ‘eyes and ears on the ground’ of climate change in action. So I understand this year’s World Press Freedom Day as a call to action, and a unique opportunity to highlight the role that Pacific journalists can play leading global conversations on issues that impact us all, like climate and the environment. Just imagine how much more powerful the messages for global climate action are when they have real faces and real stories attached to them. These are Pacific stories, and with journalists like you sharing these stories with the world, the impact will be amplified.

Distinguished guests,

As we reflect on this year’s theme, we must recognise that the truth-tellers who bring us critical insights often do so at immense personal risk. The sad reality is that across the world, media freedom is facing a real crisis. An astounding 99 journalists and media workers were killed in 2023 alone – the highest death toll since 2015. Hundreds of journalists are in prisons globally just for doing their jobs. Countless more face threats, harassment and strategic lawsuits aimed at silencing them.

Women journalists bear a disproportionate burden, with 73% facing online harassment, threats and gender-based violence. This appalling statistic represents a stain on our collective commitment to human rights and equality. We must vehemently condemn all attacks on those who wield the pen as their only weapon in the battle for truth.

Against this background, the European Union is steadily reinforcing our support to media practitioners, in close partnership with local actors around the world. Here in the Pacific, we are committed to supporting your efforts through dedicated projects like the Building Voices for Accountability project in Solomon Islands — one of many EU-funded projects supporting journalists globally.

I very much look forward to the panel discussion about this year’s World Press Freedom Day theme. Hearing your concerns and learning about the challenges that journalism faces here will help us to understand better how we can support you to carry out your vital work.

And on a personal note, I would also like to thank you all, and journalists across the region, for your continuous cooperation and interest in the EU’s actions here in the Pacific. We very much value your cooperative spirit and enthusiasm.

The path ahead to always protect media freedom and pluralism will not always be easy, but we must remain resolute in defending it. Our citizens, our societies depend on it. And this year, we remind ourselves, that the environment of our planet relies on it too.

Let me end with a quote from the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy who said on the occasion of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, on behalf of the European Union: “In defending media freedom, we protect not just our right to know, but our very ability to shape ta future guided by truth and accountability”.

Wishing you all a very good evening and looking forward to a lively discussion.

Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu.

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