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Christian communicators mark World Press Freedom Day

FREEDOM of the press today means that "emerging media technologies and social media platforms offer new channels for increased and vibrant information flows and for strengthening communication rights," according to a statement from the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) to mark the U.N.'s World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

In an open letter to WACC members and partners, the Toronto-based organization said the occasion provides "a time to celebrate the importance of press freedom, think about the state of press freedom around the world and commemorate media practitioners whose lives are threatened in the course of carrying out their profession."

This year's theme is "New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies" and WACC said that is a "reflection of the growing recognition of new media platforms that give voice to many whose freedom of expression and communication rights have been stifled."

Freedom of expression and of the press are basic human rights, said the WACC message, signed by president Dennis Smith and general secretary the Rev. Karin Achtelstetter.

However, new forms of media bring new responsibilities, they noted.

"The opportunities offered by these new platforms equally challenge media practitioners to explore ways of strengthening professional codes of ethics to reflect the changing media landscape," WACC said.

Existing media codes of ethics do not cover the proliferation of news and opinion found on the Internet and in social media, often reflected in what has become known as citizen or activist journalism, which has the potential to counter attacks on freedom of expression.

However, authoritarian governments have intensified efforts to control digital media and the Internet, WACC said, and even in established democracies, "attempts to exert government influence over public broadcasting have impinged on press freedom."

Professional standards that guide journalistic practice should be developed to adapt to new media, WACC said.

On World Press Freedom Day 2012, "we urge media practitioners … to find common ground in efforts to agree on professional standards and codes to guide the practice of journalism.

An international code of ethics for citizen journalism would provide a much needed framework for new voices working to transform societies," WACC said.