UN Nurtures Press Freedoms

AFTER Eastern Europe and Africa, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has taken its campaign to promote worldwide development of a free press to Asia - with special emphasis on the emerging republics of central Asia.

And what UN officials and private supporters of a free press have found in working with newly independent countries like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan is that they are not just helping to build an independent press, but they are also helping long-suppressed nations learn something about democracy.

"It ended up a lesson not just in a free press, but in the whole experience of democratization," says Mustapha Tlili, coordinator of UN cooperation with UNESCO, about a recent seminar in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, on building an independent and pluralistic press. A similar seminar in Windhoek, Namibia, last year resulted in a declaration on press freedom as well as concrete steps for nurturing a pluralistic press.

UNESCO, working with various governments, international press organizations, and foundations, expects to organize the same kind of press-development projects in Central Asia as those that are already under way in Africa ($10 million worth, to date) following the Windhoek conference.

"The follow-up projects - in training, technological development, professional standards, and network building - are recognition that you can't expect free media to bloom if you don't help provide the means for them to exist," says Mr. Tlili. Among the organizations already signed up to play a role in Central Asia are several from Turkey, Japan, and the United States - including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Institute for International Strategic Studies, and the World Press Freedom Committee.

UNESCO is hoping to organize another seminar next year for the Arab world. That will be "important but tricky" says Tlili, who is Tunisian, because it will unavoidably touch the debate over the compatibility of democracy and Islam.

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