UNESCO Event for 30 Years of World Press Freedom Day, UN General Assembly Hall, 2 May 2023

Minister of State Anna Lührmann speaking in the UNGA Hall for World Press Freedom Day

Minister of State Anna Lührmann speaking in the UNGA Hall for World Press Freedom Day, © German Mission to the UN, New York

02.05.2023 - Speech

The statement was delivered by the Minister of State (Federal Foreign Office), Dr. Anna Lührmann

Excellencies, colleagues and delegates,

A couple of days ago, this year’s World Press Photo Awards were announced. The pictures resonate deeply with us, the viewers, I would like to focus on two:

First, the global winner image by Evgeni Maloletka. A deeply touching photography that captures the last hour in the life of Irina Kalinina. A pregnant woman being carried away from a maternity hospital by Ukrainian soldiers in the city of Mariupol after hit by a reckless Russian airstrike on the local hospital. Her baby “Miron” – named after the word peace – soon after died, unborn. Half an hour later both were dead.

This image tells us about the unconceivable horrors civilians must endure in war. A testimony to the brutal violence that Russia has imposed on the lives of people in Ukraine; harsh realities ingrained in the body of a mother and an unborn child.

The second image I would like to mention was taken by Mauk Kham Wah, a photographer from Myanmar. Kham Wah has been covering the guerrilla war in Myanmar from inside his country for a year. This image shows a guerrilla fighter carrying the dead body of a comrade who had been fighting against the military dictatorship in Myanmar.

It is a stark reminder of the persistent violence in an almost forgotten conflict. It shows the hardships of people struggling for democracy in the face of a brutal military junta.

Continuing the work as photographer and, thereby, informing the world about what is happening inside Myanmar is an act of enormous courage. The courage becomes even more evident, when seen against the background that – according to Reporters without Borders – Myanmar is the most dangerous country for journalists worldwide.

Two images which are almost unbearable to look at. Two moments that only received global attention due to the work of courageous photo journalists. Photo journalists willing to take tremendous personal risks in order to capture essential moments and share them with the world.

Their valuable work helps us grasp the realities of people living in armed conflicts and under oppression. The images go beyond mere numbers; they provide access to remote spots and make the situation on the ground visible for everyone. They help us in our political decision-making. And they tell the world about moments that otherwise would be forgotten. The women and men behind the camera deserve our highest recognition, respect and solidarity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me a personal note. As a researcher I spent years searching for early warning indicators of the democratic decline – such as attacks on media freedom. Once media freedom perishes, other freedoms get under pressure as well. Media freedom is a central pillar of democracy.

It is, therefore, highly concerning, that spaces for critical journalism are shrinking, “information deserts” and risks for journalists and media workers increase.

We should pay tribute to the remarkable efforts made by journalists who continue to work in and on such challenging contexts.

Journalists, committed to their profession are taking tremendous personal risks to document realities in conflicts, crises and under repression.

Germany has therefore made it a priority to develop a new protection programme for journalists in conflicts and crises: the Hannah-Arendt-Initiative. Hannah Arendt was a remarkable Jewish German-US-American intellectual, who herself had to flee from Nazi Germany to continue her life and work in exile, here in New York City. Hannah Arendt was a convinced defender of freedom and democracy. Through the Hannah-Arendt-Initiative we have been supporting 1000 journalists in the continuation of their work. Journalists like Mauk Kham Wah from Myanmar.

In 2022, we invested more than 7 million Euros in this effort and we will further substantially step up our support. We do so in solidarity with journalists from Ukraine, but also with those who have critically reported from within Russia and Belarus and who, therefore, had to leave their country.

Furthermore, we have been supporting journalists from countries like Afghanistan, Iran and Myanmar. Within the Hannah-Arendt-Initiative, journalists, play a key role in strengthening spaces for free speech and independent journalism in their countries of origin.

Recognizing the importance of a systemic and coordinated approach to the matter, we have been liaising with numerous partners and friends. These include UNESCO as a key agency in this joint international effort, as well as member states of the Media Freedom Coalition.

Our common goal is the strengthening of the resilience of journalists in their work: both in their countries of origin as well as in exile.

Therefore, let me close by reaffirming Germany’s strong commitment towards the UN Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Resolution “The Safety of Journalists” adopted by the Human Rights Council last October. Let me recall Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which is the guiding principle of Germany’s foreign media policy: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

This article guarantees press freedom. Press freedom is a fundamental pillar of a democratic and pluralist society. This is why Germany stands firmly against any violation of press freedom. This is also why Germany supports journalists suffering from shrinking spaces world-wide.

Let me close with the words of Hannah Arendt: “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen.” Therefore, I am glad that we gather here today to reaffirm our commitment to media freedom. Thank you!

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