BBC to remember the cost of news in human lives

is international director, Centre for Freedom of the Media

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Journalists are by reputation busy people. Hard-bitten, cynical even. But in times like these it's obvious how much everybody owes to their courage and skill, working in war zones like Libya, and in dangerous places - especially for journalists - from Mexico to Russia.

Next Tuesday, 3 May, is World Press Freedom Day. The recent deaths in Libya of the photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed in a mortar attack on the city of Misrata, will still be fresh in people's memory.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of events are being held across the world to mark World Press Freedom Day - when the United Nations asks everyone to stop and think about the cost of journalism in human lives. I detect a keener awareness than ever before of the debt owed to journalists.

This year, Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC Global News, is calling for a minute's silence at 11am to mark the sacrifices made by journalists in the name of press freedom, and to honour those who have been killed. So, on the first working day after the long holiday break, BBC journalists will be asked to stop work briefly to show their respect.

The BBC joins Reuters, one of the world's leading news agencies, in giving public recognition in this very visible way to the sacrifice, including the risk of injury or death, involved in finding out and reporting the news.

Some might see this as just a gesture which will surely not be observed by all. But the turmoil, anguish and the death toll from the 'Arab Spring' revolts and revolutions has brought home, as rarely before, how critical the role of journalists is, in not just doing a job but reporting on events which decide the fate of nations.

The leading United Nations agency for defending the freedom of the press and freedom of expression worldwide is UNESCO. It is now taking the lead in a serious attempt to win the agreement of governments for better, stronger safeguards for journalists - not as a privilege but because their work can often put them in the frontline of danger; and because that work is vital to help people to make key choices based on reliable information rather than propaganda.

On Tuesday, many of the biggest names in British media, including the Financial Times, the Daily TelegraphDaily Mail and Sky News, are actively supporting a public event at Thomson-Reuters' London headquarters: a discussion, 'Arab Spring 2011: The Freedom to Report', with leading journalists from North Africa and the Middle East as well as the UK. It will be a chance to remember that the struggle for free media and free expression, and against censorship and lies, can be as decisive as battles fought with guns.

Details of the London discussion, as well as of special events for World Press Freedom Day with Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-moon and others in New York and Washington DC, are available from the UK National Commission for UNESCO.

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