The rotunda of the Toronto City Hall was the venue for the celebration of World Press Freedom Day on Friday 3rd May, 2019. May 3rdwas designated as World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly. This proclamation was to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘’Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right.”
Hon. Tony Ruprecht, the MC for the event welcomed all and VIPS after which he called on Vanessa Wheatle to sing the Canadian National anthem followed by a minute observation of silence for fallen media colleagues.Mr. Thomas Saras, President and CEO of NEPMCC in his welcome address stated that we, the Ethnic Media practitioners gathered at the event are not celebrating tonight but rather mourning for our brothers and sisters, 285 in total who are in jail all over the world. Their crime, he added, was to write articles criticizing their respective governments. He also asked for remembrance for the over 187 journalists who lost their lives in 2018 in the course of their duties.
Mr. Saras also said that we are gathered here to pay our respect and show solidarity with international journalists who have faced arbitrary arrests, equipment seizures, harassment and violence at the hands of multiple groups including state security forces and protesters. He continued that according to the report of Committee for the Protection of Journalists based in New York, a total of five journalists have been killed this year (including Ahmed Hussein-Suale Divela of Ghana who was murdered on January 16, 2019). Venezuela and Turkey are the worst jailers of journalists, Mr. Saras added. He therefore emphasized that the NEPMCC today stands in solidarity with our colleagues and demand that our government, the Canadian government, takes action to ensure the well-being of these hard working and innocent colleagues. He ended by stressing the point that we must all remember that when journalists are silenced, the society and democracy suffers.
The Keynote Speaker for the occasion was Prof. Nick Demos of Ryerson University and Seneca College, Toronto. In his speech, Prof. Demos pointed out that the existence of a free press in society is good for the health of democracy. If democracy is to thrive in a society, the press must enjoy complete freedom to investigate and report the truth about happenings in society. “A free Press:, he opined, “is the ability to hold governments and those in power accountable”. A free press keeps governments in the know about the issues and problems of the people. “Censoring the Press”, he continued, “is therefore a suppression of the voice of the people”.
Turning his attention to Media practitioners, Prof. Demos insisted that “freedom of the Press comes with greater responsibility and accountability”. The media, he said “must use its power to investigate issues to come up with the truth and not be part of the process to suppress the truth.
Prof. Demos enumerated a number of challenges that the press and society face in today’s society. He pointed out that the media has in some cases been compromised by autocrats and dictators who constantly attack the press and attempt to curtail its freedom. He also pointed to a lack of “quality control” currently existing in the media landscape because of the proliferation of media outlets including the social media. These include facebook and the issue of internet anonymity. Special interest groups, especially business magnates and powerful groups in society are constantly attempting and seeking to control the media. He concluded by urging media practitioners to be fearless and always strive to unearth the truth.
Greetings from the Ontario Government were presented by MPPs Aris Babikian (also a journalist and member of NEPMCC) and Roban Baber. Some of the speakers at the event were Councilor Jim Karygiannis, Joe Volpe, Senior Vice-President, Press and Electronic Media and publisher of Corriere Canadese, George Carothers of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
In attendance were Consul Generals from Romania and Germany and others, as well as Canadian Association of Equality representative, some MPPs and City Councilors. There was entertainment and refreshments after the speeches. Certificates from the Ontario Government and City of Toronto were received by Thomas Saras on behalf of NEPMCC.