World Press Freedom Day Op-Ed By United States Ambassador Terence McCulley

Since the beginning of 2015, I have visited numerous media organizations in Côte d’Iviore, talking about the United States Embassy’s number one priority for the country in 2015: a peaceful, inclusive and transparent presidential election in October of this year.  Throughout these visits, I was reminded of the positive role media can and should play in the betterment of society; keeping a watchful eye on the practices of the government and politicians, and ensuring that society is kept informed, educated and protected.  However, the media can also be used as a force that engenders conflict, violence and even hate against others, as was the case in Côte d’Ivoire during the post-electoral crisis of 2011.  As we mark International World Press Freedom Day in 2015 and look ahead to October’s presidential election, I remind all journalists of the importance of the work they do and call on all Ivoirians to hold them accountable.

Elections are a fundamental part of any democratic system.  However, as we have seen in the United States and elsewhere, elections alone do not make a democracy.  Democracy requires strong, accessible institutions and the active involvement of an engaged citizenry and a vibrant civil society, as well as the commitment of all political parties to work together in the spirit of compromise for the greater good of the nation.  In addition, the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression for all must be respected.  This includes freedom of the press.  An open and effective media allows citizens to discuss and debate issues, to challenge their governments and to make informed choices.

At the same time, the media must respect its responsibility to the public.  In order to fulfill its role, the media must maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage.  Here in Côte d’Ivoire, that rule is often ignored.  Partisan and biased publications print very different versions of the same story on a daily basis.  This does not engender democracy or respect for democratic institutions.  All media, within the rules that govern their existence, have an obligation to provide fair coverage and equitable access to all political parties as well as help ensure appropriate media behavior during the election season.  While the media has traditionally involved the printed press and broadcast media, new media including online journalism and social media is quickly gaining influence here in Côte d’Ivoire.  These journalists must also recognize their responsibility to accurately and impartially inform the public.

As Côte d’Ivoire looks ahead to the 2015 presidential election, the media will be called upon to provide political coverage so that voters can make informed and responsible choices.  The U.S. Embassy will do what it can to support high professional standards for journalists, sponsoring training, holding information sessions, distributing training tools and sending journalists to the United States through various exchange programs.

On this World Press Freedom Day, let us take the opportunity to recognize, honor, and celebrate the essential role that free and independent media play in fostering and protecting freedom of expression and democratic principles around the world.  Similarly, let us recognize the important role the media will play in the upcoming presidential election and the future of this country.  I encourage the media to be responsible, to be fair, and to be accurate in order to ensure the peaceful, inclusive, and transparent election that surely we all want.  I know such an election is possible, and I am confident that a successful election will go a long way to help Côte d’Ivoire realize its goal of becoming a stronger democracy and an emerging economy by 2020.