In a statement ahead of World Press Freedom Day May 3, UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura called on the world to "commemorate media professionals who have lost their lives and honor those who bring us information despite danger and risk."
This year's celebration will be held in Medellin, Colombia and will consist of a two-day seminar and the posthumous awarding of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize to murdered Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down on a Moscow street in October 2006.
The prize was created in honor of Guillermo Cano, who was assassinated in Bogota in 1986 at the order of the drug barons his reporting helped expose.
According to the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, 75 journalists and 32 media staff were killed last year, making 2006 the deadliest year on record. Figures released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) show that some 580 journalists worldwide were killed between January 1992 and August 2006, with the majority being murdered.
Most of the murders have not been solved, the CPJ said, and Matsuura called on governments to end the culture of impunity that allows the murder of journalists to go unpunished.
The CPJ said that Iraq remains the most dangerous assignment for journalists, with more than 32 killed there last year, and at least 100 since the start of hostilities in 2003.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said that Russia ranks among the seven worst offenders in terms of press freedom, along with Afghanistan, Venezuela, Pakistan, the Philippines, Egypt and Lebanon.
The assessment came in the wake of a report by the U.S. human rights organization Freedom House, made public in Congress Tuesday, which cited "aggressive efforts by the Russian government to further marginalize independent media voices, punctuated by plans to regulate the Internet."