Censorship a weapon of repression

2004-04-30 16:39

Censorship is one of the principal weapons of repression, says Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. The outspoken president thinks independent media play a critical role in mitigating corruption and helping to construct an entirely new way of governing.

Interview with "Lula" da Silva

WAN: How do you assess the evolution of freedom of expression in South America over the past ten years, and what have been the difficulties in this process?

Lula da Silva: We who experienced long periods of military dictatorship in our countries are well aware of the value and significance of freedom of expression. In those arduous times, defending freedom and democracy, in many cases, implied risking one's own life. Censorship was one of the principal weapons of repression and, since that time, we who are now in government have always struggled for freedom of information and of opinion, and against any kind of censorship of the media.

I think that, in this regard, we have progressed significantly in our country, and that the same has happened throughout South America.

It is important to stress, however, that all over the world today there is enormous concentration in the communications media. This concentration of power and of political and economic influence needs to be made more democratically relative by society, on behalf of democracy itself and of press freedom.

WAN: How do you see the role of an independent media in promoting economic development in Brazil?

Lula da Silva: A free press fulfils an important role in promoting economic development in countries such as Brazil. Our government is engaged in promoting economic recovery and sustained growth with social inclusion and distribution of wealth, and relies on the media to inform society and provide inputs for debate on prospects that are opening up in our country.

I believe that a democratic press has a public commitment to informing society as a whole in the most even-handed manner possible. In this regard, it is indispensable for promoting economic and social development, in that it feeds public debate by reflecting and disseminating a diversity of views within society.

WAN: In what ways can press freedom help to combat poverty in Brazil?

Lula da Silva: By disseminating public debate on such important themes as combating hunger, the country's autonomous participation in the international arena, policies for promoting equality and social inclusion, among others. I believe that the communications media can also open up spaces - aside from those that already exist - to portray the cultural and regional diversity of Brazil, by discussing issues of interest to the various sectors of society.

The unions, professional and business associations, NGOs, movements, political parties, churches and other sectors ought to interact much more constantly with the press, making it more aware of their reactions, in a democratic and participatory manner. This active exercise of citizenship could contribute decisively to increased social inclusion in Brazil.

WAN: What is the importance of a free press in the battle against corruption?

Lula da Silva: A free press, in its surveillance role over actions of government, is indispensable for the defence of public interests and for the strengthening and consolidation of democracy. Acting in a serious and responsible manner, the media helps ensure greater transparency in the actions of government. We firmly believe that information is a right and a public good. It is for this reason that the principal rule of this Administration, in its relations with the press, has been transparency of information. Independent action on the part of the communications media reinforces and requires such conduct on the part of government, thereby assisting not only in the struggle against corruption, but also in the construction of an entirely new way of governing, with greater efficiency, ethics and public responsibility.

It is fundamental for democracy that society keep more actively abreast of the openness of the work carried out by the press. To give an example, during electoral periods, when political power is being democratically disputed within society, it is important that the population pay close attention to the day-to-day work of the press, and to its role and influence in covering elections.

WAN: How can press freedom contribute to promotion of peace and reconciliation in particularly conflictive societies?

Lula da Silva: The media plays an indispensable role in denouncing injustice and in defending peace and sovereignty of peoples.

Generally speaking, an independent press has contributed to respect for human rights and for the differences among nations, and may further contribute by providing a voice for the socially excluded and for those subject to oppression and violence.

I think the press has a role in informing the population, not only of what is at stake in conflicts, but also in helping raise awareness of the need for more dialogue, co-operation and peace throughout the world.

President Lula da Silva gave this exclusive interview to the World Association of Newspapers for World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

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