Fighting for press freedom on the international stage

For four years, Albana Shala was president of UNESCO’s IPDC on behalf of the Netherlands. She was the first woman to hold the post. As head of a council of 39 countries, she advocated strongly for gender equality in the media and fort her safety of journalists.

Strong legislation for press freedom, good working conditions and professional training for journalists: these are all elements that contribute to free media and a diverse media landscape. IPDC, UNESCO’s international programme for communication development, is committed to that. IPDC is the only UN forum in which countries work together to develop media in developing countries.

Free Press Unlimited was therefore proud that its programme coordinator, Albana Shala, was elected president of IPDC at the end of 2014. The Dutch delegation at UNESCO successfully advocated for a media expert from our organisation. In that position, she could work at international level on matters close to her heart: gender equality and the protection of journalists. Normally, this position is only held by the same person for two years, and then given to a representatiee from a different country. However, people were so impressed with Albana’s work, that she was asked to stay for an additional term.

Better conditions for journalists

What do journalists notice of the work of IPDC in their daily lives? Then you have to think about the media projects that are financed by IPDC, says Shala: ‘Young female journalists at community radio stations in Mozambique for example, who can make productions about gender equality. Or a threatened journalist in Colombia who can use a programme to protect human rights defenders and journalists.’

But the IPDC also indirectly makes an important difference to journalists: the programme keeps the safety of journalists and impunity for violence against media workers high on the UN agenda. For example, the UN action plan for Safety of Journalists was devised in this forum. As a result, countries such as Afghanistan, Guatemala and South Sudan have already taken concrete measures to combat impunity. That is desperately needed: 90% of all killings of journalists worldwide still go unpunished.

In defence of press freedom

As president, among other things, Albana Shala works on a more cohesive relationship between the 39 countries that are members of the IPDC council and jointly determine the policy. Not an easy task with member states like Cuba and Turkey who have very different reputations in the area of press freedom. Nevertheless, Shala succeeded in pushing decisions on the safety of journalists through the council. As president, she could also co-determine which media projects the IPDC finances: ‘We made sure most of the selected projects also addressed gender inequality.’

‘In a climate in which world leaders depict journalists as the enemy and disinformation spreads like wildfire via social media, it is more important than ever to continue to talk at international level about the importance of press freedom,’ says Shala. That is why she will continue to be committed in the coming years: within the IPDC as board member and as of now, fully in her work for Free Press Unlimited.

Since: 2015
Donor: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Education, Culture and Science
Contribution: € 41,000


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