Article | Last updated: 2015-04-30 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Freedom of expression is the very foundation of democracy. The right to seek and receive information and to express opinions is a prerequisite for participating in society and political life.
Freedom of expression is enshrined in global and regional human rights conventions, and is protected in the constitution and other legislation of most countries. Freedom of expression is not limited to what is said or published in traditional mass media such as newspapers, radio and television. It also applies to the arts and to views that are shared on the internet, as well as on social media. Nor does freedom of expression apply only to information and ideas that are popular or uncontroversial, but also to those that may be perceived as controversial, shocking or offensive. Those who express criticism of power may have a particular need for protection. A free and open internet is vital for the freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression is restricted and obstructed by many regimes, in part through the misuse of national legislation on blasphemy and defamation. The obstruction of freedom of expression is a reliable indicator that a regime is becoming increasingly undemocratic. Only in exceptional cases can restrictions to the freedom of expression be justified. Any restriction must have a clear legal basis in national legislation, serve a legitimate aim, and be necessary in a democratic society.
Challenges arise when manifestations of freedom of expression violate the rights of other people, such as when hate speech incites to violence. Although states are obliged to implement measures against manifestations of freedom of expression that encourage hatred and intolerance of individuals or groups, finding the right balance can be difficult. The Government's message is twofold: measures must be implemented against hate speech, while freedom of expression must be respected. Achieving this requires a strong emphasis on knowledge, openness, freedom of information and dialogue.
The Government considers freedom of expression crucial to the realisation of other human rights, and will give higher priority to promoting freedom of expression in Norwegian foreign and development policy.
- actively promote, in multilateral forums and in bilateral cooperation, the right to seek and receive information and to freely express opinions;
- contribute to improved protection of journalists and other media workers, bloggers, writers and others who practise free artistic expression;
- develop a strategy for supporting freedom of expression and independent media in foreign and development policy.
Freedom of the press and independent media
Free and independent media underpin any vibrant democracy. They disseminate knowledge, views and ideas that are necessary for the development of society and for individuals’ ability to exercise their rights. A strong, diversified and independent media sector can be a critical corrective to the abuse of power, corruption and lack of transparency. If the media are to carry out their role as a fourth power in society, the necessary framework must be in place, including legislation that protects the confidentiality of sources and does not allow censorship. Independence of the media, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right of access to information are vital if the media are to be able to perform their watchdog function in a democratic society governed by the rule of law.
However, in many countries the media are threatened, their offices are ransacked, and their activities are closed down. Media licensing rules and tax legislation are misused to obstruct the work of the media. In countries where the authorities own or control the media, the opposition may well not be given a voice when elections are held, which can be decisive for the election result. New communication channels and platforms are increasingly regulated, controlled and sanctioned by authorities in many countries. The concentration of media power in the hands of a few private owners can also impede the media’s ability to act as watchdog in relation to the exercise of power in both the public and the private sector. Moreover, in countries where journalists and editors are subjected to pressure and threats, self-censorship increases and democracy suffers.
Norway plays a leading role in international efforts to promote free and independent media, particularly in conflict areas and countries where democracy is under pressure. As part of this work, the Ministry will support the development of institutions and codes of press ethics inspired by the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission, the Editors’ Code of Practice and the Code of Ethics of the Norwegian press.
- support the development of legislation and institutions that safeguard the independence of the media, combat censorship and promote public access to information;
- support training for journalists in the fields of human rights, ethical journalism, quality journalism and safety;
- combat impunity for attacks on and killing of journalists and media workers.
Protection of journalists
During the past decade there has been an increase in violence against journalists – not least women journalists – because of their work. In many countries, journalists are harassed, attacked, arrested or killed. Photographers and photojournalists are often particularly at risk.
Sustained efforts must be made to stop attacks on and killing of journalists, and when such incidents occur, they must be investigated and the perpetrators punished. For every journalist that is killed, many other people are pressured to silence.
The UN has adopted several resolutions and a plan of action on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, which are supported by Norway. Norway also supports Unesco and media organisations that are working to improve the safety of journalists.