Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Opinion

Sweden and Finland defend free press

  • Media freedom was guaranteed in Sweden and Finland 250 years ago (Photo: Mehr Demokratie)

Media freedom is increasingly under threat in the EU, its neighbourhood and around the world. Recent examples include repressive legislation, violence against journalists and the spread of state-controlled propaganda and disinformation.

Not only do such measures limit the work and threaten the lives of reporters, they also curtail the participation of citizens in society, undermining the very foundation of democracy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • NGOs have expressed their concern over the deteriorating media environment (Photo: Palagret)

This year, when the Freedom of the Press Act turns 250, Sweden and Finland are working together to advance our efforts to defend freedom of expression and media freedom in Europe and beyond.

Media freedom was guaranteed in Sweden and Finland 250 years ago, when the Swedish parliament passed the world’s first freedom of the press act. The process was strongly influenced by Anders Chydenius, a member of the Swedish Parliament from Karleby in present-day Finland.

The act abolished the censorship of printed publications, guaranteed public access to official documents and the right to engage in political debate. In addition to defending the freedom of expression, the act has made a fundamental contribution to the development of our modern and innovative Nordic societies.

As the act now turns 250, we regret that around the world the fundamental rights and freedoms it set out to safeguard are being increasingly threatened. In many places, democracy and the rule of law are undermined, human rights are being violated and their universal nature is denied.

At the core of these challenges lies a media landscape under attack. Repressive legislation targets journalists and human rights defenders. Ever-increasing resources are spent by some states to disseminate blatant propaganda and disinformation.

Journalists are intimidated, threatened, killed and persecuted. Perpetrators are far too seldom brought to justice. In many cases, the fear of reprisals and intimidation can lead to self-censorship by journalists and media workers.

These developments call for enhanced efforts to promote freedom of expression and media freedom, including promotion of media literacy and increased support to free and independent media around the world.

Many international organisations and NGOs have expressed their concern over the deteriorating media environment.

The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, an essential institution in this area, has on a number of occasions expressed concern regarding the state of freedom of the media in the OSCE area.

Russian propaganda

The newly established EU Strategic Communication Team has repeatedly exposed Russian propaganda and disinformation, which is not only concerned with distorting truths and influencing public opinion.

It also seems intent on undermining the very notion of objective information, casting all information as biased or an instrument of political power. Such propaganda and disinformation risk undermining trust in media and institutions, and promoting the spread of online echo chambers, where conspiracy theories and half-truths are wielded against opponents and journalists.

This erodes public trust in institutions on which democratic societies are built. This is why we are working with our Nordic and Baltic neighbours to train journalists in investigative journalism and to support free and independent media in areas specifically affected by disinformation and propaganda.

The media landscape is changing rapidly, creating both opportunities and challenges for freedom of expression and media freedom. In many countries, the shift from traditional newspapers and TV to digital distribution channels has already occurred.

The internet and social media empower people to exercise their freedom of opinion and expression and their right to access information. Today, we are all potential journalists, thanks to technological advances and social media. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand when exercising the right to express an opinion.

New technology can be an enabler of democratic development. At the same time, technology can be used as a vehicle for spreading propaganda and disinformation. Critical thinking and source criticism are crucial in this context. The media play a key role in connecting the dots, so that citizens can be their own judge of what is the truth and what is not.

The Nordic countries are by no means immune to threats against freedom of expression. Hate speech and radicalisation, especially online, are an ever-growing concern in our societies as well.

Daesh

Daesh (another name for the Islamic State jihadist group) uses images of extreme violence on social media to influence public opinion and provoke our societies in order to increase radicalisation and recruitment.

The common practice of posting photos and videos of brutal violence and executions on social media creates fear and increases polarisation within our own societies, thereby further feeding the extremists’ narrative.

The 250th anniversary of the Swedish and Finnish freedom of the press act reminds us of the long road we have travelled to promote the freedom of expression.

Developments in the wider world, however, make it clear that now is no time to stop. The Swedish and Finnish governments pledge to work even harder, and jointly with media representatives and civil society, to advance freedom of expression globally.

Margot Wallstrom is the foreign minister of Sweden. Timo Soini is the foreign minister of Finland

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Turkey widens crackdown on EU free speech

Turkey arrests a Dutch journalist and complains over plans to commemorate an Ottoman genocide in Germany and Sweden after urging legal action against European comedians.

EU parliament hosts Russian propaganda circus

Russian TV, blacklisted officials, and lobbyists in the EU parliament on Wednesday hurled accusations at a deceased Russian lawyer and attack EU institutions.

Europe's empty fortress

It is too easy only to criticise the rightists and their fixation with barbed wire, Trump for his wall on the border with Mexico, Orban for his xenophobia.

Catalonia shows dangers of jail terms for non-violence

Time and again, across the world, efforts to "decapitate" non-violent movements, and refusals to engage in political dialogue with them, have led to situations like we are seeing today in Catalonia.

News in Brief

  1. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder
  2. Erdogan accuses EU of 'standing by terrorists' in Syria
  3. Migrants riot in Maltese camp
  4. Spanish PM refuses dialogue with Catalonia president
  5. Putin: Russia will help Africa without 'conditions'
  6. Almost 200 arrests in Catalonia independence protests
  7. Report: Russian hackers used Iranian cover to attack UK
  8. Next EU economy chief calls for looser budget policies

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  2. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  3. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  4. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  5. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  6. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate
  7. Crunch Brexit vote in UK This WEEK
  8. EU envoy sheds light on weird US diplomacy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us