Innlegg på møte om ytringsfrihet

Statssekretær Marianne Hagens innlegg på et åpent møte i regi av ytringsfrihetskomiteen til International Publishers Association.

It is a great honour to be invited to this open meeting hosted by the Freedom to Publish Committee of the International Publishers Association.

Promoting freedom of expression is a key priority in Norway’s human rights policy. It is not only a cornerstone of democracy, but also essential for the realisation of other fundamental freedoms and rights, be they freedom of assembly, freedom of religion or the right to have access to information.

The right to free expression is a principle with long historical traditions in Norway. It was codified in our Constitution of 1814. Article 100 begins: “There shall be freedom to print”.

In 2016, my Ministry launched a strategy to promote freedom of expression and independent media in Norway’s foreign policy and development cooperation. Protection of those who speak out and use the right to freedom of expression is a key element in our strategy. We follow up the strategy in different ways:

We work in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Council to defend freedom of expression.

We support the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Two weeks ago, we organised the Trygve Lie Symposium in New York. The focus was on human rights defenders and their right to speak out.

For several years, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has supported the important work of Norwegian PEN and PEN International.

Today, freedom of expression is increasingly under attack around the world, but also here in Europe.

Writers, journalists and academics are fired due to their writings. Just because they do their job. They are threatened, harassed and even killed because they criticize authorities and the misuse of power. Or just because they express a different opinion.

In many established democracies, the rule of law and human rights are under severe pressure. Over the last couple of years, there has been much discussion of the “shrinking space” for civil society in several countries. Governments that stifle public discourse and information sharing seem to be learning from and copying each other. They share “worst practices” rather than best practices.

We need to reverse these trends. We must fight back; we must expand and strengthen the democratic space. You – as international standard-bearers of the free interchange of ideas – are among our most formidable weapons.

Governments must ensure free and open debates without imposing limitations or restraints. We need free exchanges of opinion and access to information if we are to choose the best policy options, find innovative solutions and drive development forward.

I would argue that the question mark is the strongest symbol in the written language. When we can question anything, we can also improve on everything. Societies become stronger through criticism, openness and freedom of expression. Not weaker as some authoritarian governments like to tell us.

Next year, Norway will be the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair. We will not only showcase our rich and diverse literature and culture. We will also use the Book Fair as a platform to stand up for and promote our shared values – liberal democracies and freedom of expression, including the freedom to publish. Where the rights and freedoms of all individuals are respected. And with a vibrant and strong civil society.

We are in dialogue with the Frankfurt Book Fair and other partners to develop joint events to be included in our efforts to promote the respect of fundamental democratic rights in Europe and beyond at the book fair next year.

Writers and publishers have always been at the front line in these struggles, so I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to share with us concrete themes you would like us to include in our Guest of Honour program next year. For practical reasons, I suggest that you channel your proposals through the Freedom to Publish Committee.

And, finally - please continue your important work.

Thank you.

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