Today is World Press Freedom Day and no better date to honour the journalists and photographers killed or missing in action while covering conflicts around the world. For South Africans, it’s the plight of photojournalist, Anton Hammerl, that rings the bell closest to home. Now missing for 29 days, his family and friends have still not heard from him.
United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, said today in a statement, “When governments repress their people and shield themselves from scrutiny, press freedom is among the most powerful vehicles for exposing misdeeds and upholding public trust”. [http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sgsm13536.doc.htm]
He said that World Press Freedom Day had “its roots in the African journalists who, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of media restrictions in Eastern Europe, sought similar advances on their continent. They worked with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to organize the 1991 seminar in Namibia that produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on free and independent media, which in turn inspired the United Nations General Assembly two years later to proclaim this observance”.
He also paid tribute to the power of new media in ensuring voices will be heard and images seen on an unprecedented scale. “Today it is the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East mobilising for their democratic rights and freedoms — and doing so with a heavy and creative reliance on the Internet and social media to help spur change in their societies. The theme of this year’s observance, New Frontiers, New Barriers, highlights this dramatically changed global media landscape. New media and tools such as cell phones continue to empower individuals, enrich news-gathering and illuminate once largely hidden workings of government, business and industry.”
Ban Ki Moon said that the “impunity” that follows the murders of journalists and photographers suggests “a disturbing lack of official concern for the protection of journalists, and outright contempt for the vital role they play. Many other journalists languish in jail simply for doing their jobs”.
It was this seeming lack of concern over the plight of Anton Hammerl that saw his family and journalists become active in campaigning for his release – and simply for information as to his situation, something that is still unclear.
In order to keep up the pressure, Hammerl’s family and friends have organised two vigils to be held this evening, one in London and the other in Johannesburg. Hammerl’s wife Penny Sukhraj, his mother Freda Hammerl and brother Alex Hammerl will light candles for him at a vigil in London to mark the 29th day of his captivity in Libya.
Simultaneously in Johannesburg his father Ludwig Hammerl will join Anton’s friends, former colleagues and journalists based in South Africa, to light candles and call for his release.
Penny Sukhraj, Hammerl’s wife, said on behalf of the Hammerl family, “As Anton’s family, these are dark days for us. The anguish of still not knowing where he is and whether he is well, grows with each day that passes with no word from him. Your presence here today, means you’re committed with us, to keeping strong the call for his release – and for this we’re deeply grateful. Please don’t give up on him – we can’t. We won’t.”
Candles will be lit for each day Anton has been missing and will serve as a reminder that the pressure for his release will not stop until Anton is home with his family.
Yusuf Abramjee, for the National Press Club, called on government to ensure South Africa’s hard fought right to freedom of the press be upheld “without interference, intimidation, abuse or harassment”.
“We again appeal to the South African government to assist and to pressurise Libya to release Hammerl. It’s now going for three weeks and as we mark World Press Freedom Day, Hammerl and others who are in detention are in our thoughts and prayers.
“I’ve recently had discussions with Libya’s ambassador to South Africa, Dr Abdoola Al-Zubedi, who promised to assist. We hope to meet him this week again to follow-up and see what, if any, progress has been made.
“Journalists should be allowed to do their work without any fear, intimidation, abuse, harassment or detention. In many parts of the world, members of the media are targeted and we condemn this in the strongest terms,” said Abramjee.
Abramjee said there have been a number of worrying incidents where journalists have been intimidated and threatened with arrest – and in some cases, even arrested – by members of the South African Police Service while doing their job.
“We will continue to raise our concerns with the police leadership. We must be allowed to work freely,” he said.
In London, the vigil will be held at St Bride’s Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 8AU. St Bride’s Church is located just off Fleet Street by Ludgate Circus. Due to its location on Fleet Street it has a long association with journalists and newspapers.
The Johannesburg vigil will be held from 6.30 to 7.30pm at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, 9 Jubilee Rd, Parktown, Johannesburg. Speakers will include internationally renowned photographer Dr Peter Magubane, former Saturday Star editor Paula Fray and Sunday Times columnist and award-winning author Fred Khumalo. Professor Farid Esack will provide a spiritual message.
Anton’s family requests those attending either of the two vigils to bring a candle.
Join the ‘Free Photographer Anton Hammerl’ facebook page
This very special music podcast has been set up to raise awareness about the missing journalists in Libya.
Due to its location on Fleet Street St Bride’s has a long association with journalists and newspapers. More here http://www.stbrides.com/index.htm
For more information about World Press Freedom Day 2011