- From Chairman
- From Director
Dear Friends,This year’s congress of the International Press Institute (IPI) is being held in Finland, which in many ways serves as an excellent host for the meeting. Finland and other Nordic lands are model countries for freedom of speech and are rated right at the top in all international statistical rankings of freedom of speech. Finland is also a strong newspaper country in which there is a long tradition of reading. And Finland is the country that ranks third in reading newspapers, just after Japan and Norway.
The current worldwide economic crisis is affecting the media in many ways. It does not help the situation that while the recession is cutting advertising, the Internet and rapid broad-band connections are changing the working environment of the media in ways that are hard to predict. Economically, there have been hard times before. There is no reason to believe that the media will not survive the current crisis this time as well. People’s desire to be well informed has not disappeared, nor will it disappear. To be well informed is one of the basic rights of citizens in a democratic society.
In stable democracies freedom of speech is self evident, but one easily becomes aware of the significance of freedom of speech when a situation is encountered in which there is no such freedom. World Press Freedom Day was celebrated around the world on the 3rd of May. At that moment there were 143 journalists in prison. According to the IPI’s count, already this year 25 journalists have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Freedom of the press in the world is not doing very well. The situation has become more difficult several years running. According to the classification by the organisation Freedom House, the world is divided into three kinds of states. Among the countries of the world, around 36 per cent are free countries, 31 per cent are partly free, and 33 per cent are countries that are not free. Only 17 per cent of the world’s population, or 1.1 billion people, live in countries that are free. That number is shamefully low.
We know from experience that not only dictatorships, but also many developing democracies readily limit the freedom of the press. The central task of the members of the IPI is to be uncompromising about freedom of speech, and therefore our organisation must listen to developments with a sensitive ear and react whenever grounds for reaction appear. “Freedom of speech can be preserved only if that freedom is taken care of,” wrote the Finnish author Sofi Oksanen in a full-page statement on Freedom of Speech Day. This text was published in a number of newspapers.
In Helsinki, the capital of Finland, we will have time over the course of several days to consider the situation of freedom of speech and, as an organisation, to react to the worst abuses. We will also have an occasion in which to enjoy free discussion and free time. Helsinki is a beautiful and bright summer city whose maritime environment can be enjoyed by each participant during these days.
Once again: welcome to Helsinki to enjoy not only our meeting but also the Nordic white nights.
Dear Colleagues,As the Director of the International Press Institute, I welcome you to Helsinki and to the IPI World Congress and 58th General Assembly.
The world has changed dramatically since we last gathered in Belgrade. The international financial crisis, Barack Obama’s historic election victory, the brief war between Russia and Georgia, and Moscow’s dispute with Ukraine that left parts of Europe without gas have all, to a greater or lesser degree, affected our lives.
With one of the strongest line-ups of speakers in recent memory, the Helsinki congress focuses not only on press freedom issues, but also on the many political, economic, environmental and technological challenges facing the world today. In addition to sessions dealing with the financial crisis, Russia’s resurgence, and climate change, the panels also address topics related to the communications industry, including the growth of new media and its effect on traditional broadcast news.
There will be a special presentation on the upcoming Australian feature film, “Balibo”, including film clips and the chance to meet the director and one of the cast members. “Balibo” relives events surrounding the killing of six Australia-based journalists at the hands of Indonesian troops in East Timor in 1975. Over 34 years, IPI has sought justice for the murders of the journalists and welcomes “Balibo” as an important opportunity to keep the issue alive and to bring their story to a wider audience.
As always, IPI offers a wide array of social events and sightseeing tours to places of great cultural, historical and natural interest. And, of course, you will be able to enjoy the festive mood of Helsinki’s “White Nights.”
I hope you will enjoy a memorable IPI event over the next few days.
Finlandia Hall, the leading congress site in Helsinki, is the creation of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. It was designed in 1962 as part of a grand new city plan whose other elements remained largely unrealized. It thus has an ideal location, a short walk from the very heart of the city, and is near the congress hotels. Built between 1967 and 1971, the fan-shaped concert hall was the first portion to be constructed; the congress wing was begun soon thereafter. The distinctive asymmetrical building is faced with white Carrara marble, a hallmark of Aalto’s style.
Finlandia Hall has been the setting for numerous state occasions, and thousands of international conferences, concerts, and other important events of both national and international significance. It was here that the first and third stages of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (later OSCE) took place in 1973 and 1975.