“In the exploitation of the new opportunities created by the Internet, the Swedish, like their Nordic neighbours, have also proved leaders, whether through their digital news sites, video and web TV, the exploitation of mobile devices or in the convergence of their editorial operations,” said Gavin O'Reilly, president of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), at the opening ceremony attended by a record 1800 senior newspaper executives from 113 countries, in the presence of Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries.
“There is also a lesson to be learned here in Sweden, however, in the continuing strength of the print newspaper,” he said.
“In all league tables measuring the Internet - whether in terms of audience, advertising market share, broadband penetration - Sweden ranks among the leaders. And yet, consider this: each and every day, in the midst of this highly wired and digitally-educated environment, about 90 % of the adult population reads a newspaper in print, in 83 % of cases paid for. They don't have to, it's not a legal obligation, they choose to, despite the existence of so many alternative channels for getting information and entertainment.”
“It is a question of measure and perspective,” he said. “If WE don't keep our heads and keep uppermost in our minds the realities and hard facts about the enduring force and impact of our core, print businesses, who will do it for us? Not those with the loudest voice or the most provocative viewpoint who, unfortunately, are those who tend to shape perceptions about our industry. “
During the opening ceremonies of the congress and forum, George Brock, president of WEF, presented the 2008 Golden Pen of Freedom to Chinese journalist Li Chongqing. The award to Li, who was released from prison in February after serving three years for reporting on an outbreak of dengue fever, marked the second consecutive year that the annual award has gone to a Chinese journalist. It is the first time since WAN created the award in 1961 that journalists from the same country have won it in consecutive years.
Li was unable to obtain a passport and could not attend the award ceremony. His wife, Bao Dinling, was stopped at the airport in Beijing and prevented by Chinese authorities from attending.
“The award was made on the individual merits of Mr Li's case. He went to jail for exposing a serious outbreak of a dangerous disease before the authorities had told the public about it. The Golden Pen of Freedom recognises Mr Li's brave conduct in revealing significant facts in the public interest,” said Brock.
“But Mr Li's case also belongs in a context. China has the dubious distinction of being the world's biggest jailer of journalists,” he said. “Despite the promises it made in its successful Olympic bid to improve conditions for journalists, China has continued its repressive policies, cynically believing that neither the Olympic movement nor the international community expects them to honour their promises of reform.”
At least 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents remain in Chinese prisons.
Li, who was freed from prison on 2 February, was a reporter and deputy news director of the Fuzhou Daily in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province. He was sentenced to prison in January 2006, for "fabricating and spreading false information", after being detained without charges for nearly a year. The charges stem from a report on the 2004 outbreak of dengue fever in Fuzhou that was posted on Boxun News Network, a Chinese-language website based in the US.
Due to censorship and restrictions imposed by the Communist Party Propaganda Department on sensitive social issues, no reports of the outbreak in Fuzhou of dengue, a viral, mosquito-borne disease, had been reported in the Chinese press. Nor had health officials officially announced the outbreak.
“In most countries, he would be celebrated and honoured for this work,” said Brock. “In China, disclosing such facts is an imprisonable offence.”
• The 61st World Newspaper Congress, 15th World Editors Forum and Info Services Expo 2008, the global meetings of the world's press, run through until Wednesday, 4 June. For more, including summaries of presentations and other materials, go to www.wansweden2008.com.