- We have become too afraid to offend in Europe

But national security measures poses the greatest threats to freedom of expression, says the OSSE representative on freedom of the media. 

- European countries who formerly defended freedom of speech are about to betray it, says Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Photo: OSCE / Alexander Kim

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media attended a panel during the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' launch of a new strategy in order to protect freedom of expression earlier this year.

Dunja Mijatović, whose office is sponsored by NORDEM, told the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights that the level of media freedom in Europe has deteriorated since her appointment as a representative in 2010.


Fewer states stand up for free speech

16 journalists were killed in Europe in 2015, a record high number in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The numbers of attacks on journalists and threats are increasing both in numbers and gravity. The development is particularly negative in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey and the Western Balkans. But Mijatović warns against another development in Europe.

- European states traditionally underscoring safeguarding freedom of expression do not protect free speech to the same extent at home when they are confronted with security concerns, the OSCE representative .


Security wins over free speech

- Also previously journalists were killed, freedom of expression was curtailed - online and offline - and journalists had to engage in self-censorship of security concerns. This negative development took place more quietly than what we are seeing today. Increased terrorist attacks are now putting European countries on probation on whether they want to stand up for press freedom or not, Mijatović said.

She mentioned legislation that restricts freedom of expression in France and UK in the wake of terrorist attacks. In January the British Court of Appeal stated that the UK anti-terrorism legislation from 2000 was in conflict with freedom of the press in the so-called Miranda case, where a British journalist was arrested and had his source material seized.


Security poses biggest threat

National security measures represent the biggest threat to freedom of expression in Europe, the OSCE representative stated.

- Paradoxically, these measures designed to ensure our security as citizens, poses the biggest threat to freedom of expression today, Mijatović​ said.

She makes reference to an increased surveillance of European citizens and diminished protection of privacy and private information. During her visit to Norway, Mijatovic participated in a debate organised by the Norwegian press. The conference addressed the Norwegian authorities expanding authorities to monitor the communications of their own citizens.


- Too afraid to offend

Mijatović believes it is time that European countries stand up for the human right to freedom of expression. The OSCE Representative says she is principally «allergic to balance freedom of expression.»

- We don't have a human right to not be offended. To frame it as such, is a silent war against free speech.

- Have we gone too far in Europe in avoiding to offend - at the expense of freedom of expression?

- Yes, I believe so. For me, free speech can only be limited by incitement to violence. All other kind of speech we have to accept, Mijatovic said.

- Does this also apply to religion?

- Yes.


Tired of declarations

Mijatović, who is approaching the end of her mandate, says she is tired of states supporting free speech «only on paper».

- What does it take for the Norwegian strategy to not become such declarations?

- When I say «support only on paper», I refer to all the UN declarations that have been adopted in support of freedom of expression and journalists' safety. For many states this remains only obligations on paper. The Norwegian government's initiative is something else. It is a unique initiative, Mijatović said.

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Harassment leads to women's self-censorship

The OSCE representative also emphasised that threats, sexual harassment and harassment online leads to self-censorship among journalists.

- This is an increasing problem, especially among women journalists in the OSCE region, Mijatović said. 

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Supported by Norway

The Norwegian Centre for Human Rights supports the OSCE representative for freedom of the media with a senior adviser on media and freedom of expression. Ingvil Conradi Andersen is sent by NORDEM. She follows in particular developments in the Nordic and Baltic countries and Poland. Conradi Andersen has worked for ten years with the regulation of broadcasting and media ownership issues in the Media Authority. She also has a background as a lawyer and judge in Halden District Court in Norway.

By Tone Magni F. Vestheim
Published Feb. 4, 2016 8:49 AM - Last modified Feb. 4, 2016 9:04 AM