The prize itself is awarded to those who have made significant contributions to progress or defend the freedom of expression and information, particularly if this involves risk. First given in 1997, it was created by UNESCO's Executive Board and is given annually. It is now supported by the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation, JP/Politiken Newspapers LTD, and the Guillermo Cano Foundation. Guillermo Cano Isaza, the prize's namesake, was a Colombian newspaper editor who was assassinated on December 17, 1986, for denouncing the activities of local drug barons.
This award is especially poignant in light of recent developments in many parts of the world, most notably in Gaza where attacks have been becoming more frequent against individuals and institutions involved in the media. UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura has condemned the Gaza attacks on members of the media in citing UN Security Council resolution 1738 agreed to in December 2006. It is hoped any further breaches of this resolution will cease immediately to allow the media to safely disseminate information to those anxiously awaiting it.