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Free media

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 10:28 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2007

The United Nations declared 3 May 1993 World Press Freedom Day. It's been marked on this day every year since.

3 May 2007 is Alan Johnston's 52nd day incarcerated who-knows-where. Seven weeks ago, as many of you will know, he was abducted at gunpoint in Gaza City. Neither his family nor the BBC have heard from him since.

This year the BBC celebrates 75 years of international broadcasting. For three quarters of a century, we've relied on an extraordinary group of people who remain in the world's trouble spots, when everyone else is getting out. They don't just work for the BBC of course. And World Press Freedom Day is about more than Alan Johnston. But arguably now - more than ever - Alan's plight represents the dangers facing journalists around the world.

Seventy five years after the birth of the BBC World Service, today we live in an age where there's no shortage of news - there are dozens of 24 hour news channels around the world, on radio, on TV, and online. And yet, serious, dispassionate, impartial journalism is as at a premium. At a time when there's so much noise, making sense of it all really matters.

That's what Alan Johnston was doing in Gaza. Journalists are the eyes and the ears of their audiences. That's why it matters that the BBC is still there in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's why we need to show what's going in places like Darfur. A free media can be a powerful influence. But that's precisely why, in so many places, that free media is under threat.

freealanmarch_203ap.jpgIn December 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1738, demanding governments around the world respect the safety of those in the media. Journalists don't want - they don't deserve - special treatment. They do deserve equal treatment. Journalists shouldn't be singled out to be silenced. That's why back in Gaza, Alan's colleagues in the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate have turned out in such numbers to demand his release. 14 foreign journalists have been kidnapped in the Gaza Strip since 2005 - so far, each of them has been released unharmed. But everyday, local journalists face harassment, intimidation, kidnap and worse.

World Press Freedom Day is an important moment to pause and reflect; a free press needs people like Alan Johnston. Without them, there will be no eyes and ears telling us what's going on - there won't be the insight from those who are able to make sense of it all. More than ever, that is why - 52 days after he was abducted - we hope for Alan's early release.

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