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OTTAWA, May 2, 2012 /CNW/ – The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques (ACS) are winners of the 14th annual Press Freedom Award for their work in exposing government restrictions on federal scientists that prevent or delay the free communication of public science through the media.
Awarded each year by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, the prize goes to a Canadian person or group who has defended or advanced the cause of freedom of expression. The award includes a cash prize of $2,000and a certificate from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO whose Secretary-General, David A. Walden, presents it at a noon luncheon in Ottawa on May 3rd at the National Arts Centre.
The CSWA noted in a letter to Prime Minster Harper in February that his government promised accountability and transparency, but federal scientists are still not allowed to speak to reporters without the “consent” of media relations officers. As a result, some journalists have simply given up trying to access federal scientists, while federal scientists work in an atmosphere dominated by political messaging.
“Our message is radically simple,” says CSWA president Stephen Strauss. “Eliminate the spin doctors and media minders and let tax-payer funded scientists speak for themselves. Follow the American lead where government scientists are free to speak to journalists without having to first seek the approval of a public affairs officer.”
CCWPF member Bob Carty says his committee selected these associations for its prize to send a message to the Harper government that “Canadians have the right, through the media, to access the expertise of publicly funded scientists, and those federal scientists have the right to freedom of expression.”
“Science is critical to Canadian society. From climate change to oil pipelines, from epidemics to the safety of our food and water, we need to know the results of the scientific work our taxes support. We need our media to be unencumbered by needless government delays and ideological filtering,” Carty says.
The Ottawa event for World Press Freedom Day also announced winners of the 12th International Editorial Cartoon Competition on the theme: “Power to the People: Citizens and Social Media.” This year the competition received more than 300 submissions from 40 countries with prizes of $1,500, $750 and $500 going to the top three cartoons. The Grand Prize went to cartoonist Liza França from Brazil, second prize to Riber Hansson of Sweden, and third prize to Hicabi Demirci of Turkey. (see winning cartoons)
World Press Freedom Day tries to increase awareness about free speech violations. Last year 103 journalists and media workers were killed for doing their jobs and 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists were behind bars at the end of 2011. In a new and ominous trend, 199 “netizens” (Internet citizens or advocates) were arrested, a 31% increase over the previous year.
May 3 was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted earlier at UNESCO’s General Conference. Sponsors of the CCWPF luncheon – an annual event since 1998 – include the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the IDRC, Rx&D, Newspapers Canada, iPolitics, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, The Ottawa Citizen, The Hill Times/Embassy, Le Droit, and many more.