The role of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, in building the mythology around Narendra Modi deserves closer scrutiny than India’s mainstream media has been able to muster thus far.
On the funny side, all kinds of bogus claims (UNESCO declares Modi best PM in the world; UNESCO declares Indian national anthem best in the world) have been happily attributed to UNESCO, thrilling millions living in the wonder world of WhatsApp.
On a serious note, UNESCO’s declaration of June 21 as International Day of Yoga is a fine feather in Modi’s crown, although the carpers and cribbers will wonder why UNESCO chose the day the founding sarsanghchalak of the RSS, K.B. Hedgewar, died.
The designation of the walled city of Ahmedabad—not the city of Ahmedabad as hoardings outside the airport proclaim—on UNESCO’s World Heritage List will only please those who have seen the “Gujarat Model” on their smartphone.
Be that as it may, it is UNESCO’s overweening desire and urgency to provide a certificate to the state of media freedom under Narendra Modi’s watch that beggars belief.
Earlier this year, UNESCO’s Secretariat in Paris (see screenshot, above) “approached” its India delegation with a proposal to host World Press Freedom day in India in 2018 “for a mutually beneficial opportunity for both India and UNESCO“.
May 3 was proclaimed as World Press Freedom day, or simply World Press Day, by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 following what is known as the Windhoek Declaration in Namibia.
The aim is to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It provides an opportunity to:
- celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
- assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
- defend the media from attacks on their independence;
- and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Admittedly, over the years, World Press Freedom Day has been hosted in a number of countries which are not quite the shining lights of media freedom: Senegal (2005), Mozambique (2008), Indonesia (2017).
So why not India, you must ask?
But India in 2018, under Narendra Modi, after it had slipped three points from 133 to 136 on the world press freedom index and is barely above Pakistan and Sri Lanka?
After the killings of journalists, after the raids on media houses, after silencing owners and editors, after trolling journalists and dissenters, after shutting down the internet?
“UNESCO believes it [hosting World Press Day in India] will be an opportunity for India to bolster its credentials as a free and fair and open democracy and journalists from all over the world to discover India, who through their writing will increase India’s visibility on the world platform,” read the concept note for World Press Day 2018.
The “honour” of hosting World Press Day 2018 eventually went to Ghana, “following a request by the United Nations“.
UNESCO’s representative Tirso A.S. dos Santos was quoted as saying:
“Ghana was chosen in recognition of its record on freedom of expression and for the consistency with which the day had been marked locally over the years.
“Ghana is a good example of press freedom and freedom of expression to not only African countries but also many countries globally and this informed the decision to have the country host the 2018 global edition.”
What if the honour had gone to India? Would it have been in “recognition of its record on freedom of expression” under Modi? Would it have been because India “is a good example of press freedom and freedom of expression” under Modi?
What’s the deal, UNESCO?
What’s the deal, Irina Bokova?