“We have gathered in this city to discuss and debate global as well as local events, and to show our solidarity with the entire media fraternity,” said Jacob Mathew, President of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), during the opening ceremony of the 64th World Newspaper Congress, 19th World Editors Forum and Info Services Expo 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine.
“There were voices that argued that Ukraine should be boycotted in view of its press freedom situation and other issues of concern,” he said. “But we at WAN-IFRA chose exactly the opposite path. We said we should spend time in Kiev, understand the situation, and show our solidarity with the local independent media. Instead of turning our backs to the long-suffering Ukraine, we wanted to embrace this great country that we believe has the strength to re-assert itself and regain freedoms that sustain democracy and human dignity.”
The audience, which included Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, other dignitaries, and more than 1,000 publishers, chief editors, managing directors and other senior newspaper executives from 88 countries, was told that international media conferences in Ukraine “will give an exposure to the media an the society in the region to the best global practices in print and broadcast journalism.”
“Our plea is to ensure that the laws which threaten any media are moved out of the way,” he said.
President Yanukovych’s speech, which followed Mr Mathew’s, was marked by a protest by a group of about 15 journalists who held up signs throughout his remarks that read, “Stop Censorship.”
“There is a problem of inertia that law enforcement doesn’t react to some of the press’ complaints and claims about freedom of the press and independence of the media, but I can assure you that we are working diligently to improve this situation,” President Yanukovych said.
“I can ensure you that the development of the freedom of speech and independent media will stay one of our main priorities going forward as it is very important for our future. And we want to partner with you to help to ensure this,” he said.
In response to the protest, WAN-IFRA spokesman Larry Kilman said: “One of the main focuses of these events is to defend and promote press freedom. By choosing Ukraine as our venue, we stand in solidarity with the local independent press, and draw international attention to the situation here. The protesters were a very powerful reminder that there is still much to be done.
“We had a similar protest at our opening ceremony when we held the events in Moscow in 2006 during President Putin's remarks. And as with Moscow, the president of WAN-IFRA took the occasion in Kiev to express our concerns in his own presentation, in the presence of the president.”
The Congress, Forum and Expo, organised by WAN-IFRA, will continue for three days of discussions focused on the transformation of the news publishing industry in the digital age. The events can be followed at http://www.wan-ifra.org/kiev2012_blog or on Twitter with #wnc12 and #wef12
It is the first time the events have ever been held in Ukraine.
Mr Mathew’s full speech can be found at http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/63043
WAN-IFRA’s report on press freedom in Ukraine, based on a mission to the country in April, can be found at http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/60102