To the 3rd World Summit on Media for Children
Thessaloniki, Greece - 22 March 2001
President Stefanopoulos, Mr. Reppas, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:
On behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund, let add my warmest welcome to all of you - and tell you how delighted I am to be in Greece for this important meeting.
Your presence here is an affirmation of the crucial role that mass media of every kind is playing - and can yet play - in the promotion and protection of the rights of the world's children, beginning with their right to participate and to express themselves freely.
The 2nd World Media Summit in London, which I had the pleasure of attending in 1998, underscored the vast power of communications technology to transform the world - a power that is only beginning to unfold, especially through television and the Internet.
The most pervasive and long-lasting effects of this transformation are of course felt by children, countless numbers of whom navigate the round-the-clock media universe with the ease of fish in the sea.
We as adults owe it to children to use the power of the mass media to help build a better world. It is our duty to promote and protect children's right to speak their minds and to freely seek, receive, and impart information and ideas.
Moreover, the mass media is obliged not merely to entertain young minds, but to help stimulate, inform and educate.
We owe them this not only as a matter of morality, but of law. For in ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 191 countries affirmed their obligation to recognize the central importance of the mass media in promoting child rights.
This includes ensuring that children have access to a free flow of information and ideas; that the media offer material specifically tailored to their interests and linguistic needs, especially those of minority and indigenous children - and that all children be protected from potentially harmful uses of the media, such as inappropriate onscreen sex and violence.
Mr. President, the right to participation and free expression are essential ingredients of democracy - and as such, they are vital to the realisation of all human rights, which Secretary-General Kofi Annan has affirmed is at the very heart of the UN's mission.
It is a cause for rejoicing that every day, children are exercising their right to participate and to speak freely, in big ways and small, in every region of the world.
We have seen it in the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia; in last year's Global March Against Child Labour that began in the Philippines; in Mozambique's special children's election - and in the children's parliaments that were created in such places as Ethiopia, India, Jamaica, Lebanon, Senegal and Slovenia.
Indeed, I saw it firsthand just a few weeks ago on a computer screen in New York, when I had a fascinating on-line chat with young people from 14 countries under the auspices of UNICEF's Voices of Youth. Our wide-ranging conversation, which originated at UNICEF country offices and with NGO partners, touched on everything from HIV/AIDS and drug use to how teen-agers are portrayed on television.
Three decades ago, the idea of a chatting casually across hundreds of thousands of miles was a thoroughly futuristic notion - except to people with the insight of Marshall McLuhan, who famously observed that our growing electronic interdependence was recreating the world in the image of "a global village."
In 2001, that piece of insight sounds about as novel as the proposition that the earth revolves around the sun. But now as never before, the global village has become a defining reality of our time - and like any village worthy of the name, it teems with children.
Mr. President, we have only begun to fully harness the global village's power to build a better future for every child - a world where all children can grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity, where they are loved and cherished, where they can learn in safe and enabling environments, where their gender is not a liability - and where they can express themselves freely and participate in matters that affect them.
The 1995 and 1998 World Media Summits marked the beginning of a major initiative to enlist the media and other diverse sectors of society as partners in implementing these rights.
The 1999 Oslo Challenge, an initiative organised by UNICEF and the Government of Norway, addressed a call to governments, organisations and individuals to build constructive relationships between children and the media. And since then, media professionals and owners have joined with child rights advocates to find ways to ensure that children have access to the media, along with opportunities to participate in it - and to be made aware, and protected against, harmful uses of media.
The process continued last month, at the Asia-Pacific Television Forum on Children and Youth in Seoul, where public and private broadcasters, satellite and cable networks and regional television associations pledged to work to ensure that children's concerns are given the attention they deserve - and that children's voices are truly heard.
Mr. President, every one of us has the power to change the world for and with children. And that is why UNICEF has begun working with all our partners to help mobilise a Global Movement for Children - a worldwide campaign to build a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child on earth as we prepare for the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children in September, where a critical plan of action for children over the next decade will be adopted.
To succeed, the Global Movement will need to enlist not only established leaders, but people of influence representing every part of civil society, from non-governmental organisations, religious groups and private enterprise to people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, families - and children themselves.
Alliances with media - from corporate executives and film producers to video computer graphics designers to radio broadcasters - are crucial to the success of this undertaking.
Just how crucial will become apparent next month, when UNICEF, with the help of Nelson Mandela, launches a campaign called Say Yes for Children. Over the Internet and in towns and communities worldwide, we will ask adults and children alike to Say Yes by pledging their support for what are widely believed to be the ten most imperative actions to improve the lives of children everywhere. The results will be presented to Heads of State and Governments attending the Special Session on Children.
You can support the Say Yes for Children campaign by carrying advertisements or video footage; by creating your own programming, preferably aimed at children and young people - or by doing whatever you can to facilitate these objectives.
Distinguished Delegates, in its unique way, the mass media has the power to change the world not just for children, but with them. So together let us build a better future for every child - secure in the knowledge that in serving the best interests of children, we will serve the best interests of all humanity.