Historisk arkiv

Global Inter-Media Dialogue

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Utenriksdepartementet

Opening Address at the Dialogue at Bali, Indonesia

Den første intermediedialogen fant sted på Bali 1. – 2. september 2006. Bakteppet for intermediakonferansen var karikaturstriden. Den andre dialogen fant sted i Oslo 4.-5. juni 2007, og den tredje dialogen fant sted 6.-8. mai 2008 i Indonesia.

Global Inter-Media Dialogue

Bali, Indonesia, 2 September 2006

Check against delivery

Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you, Mr President, for welcoming us to the Global Inter-Media Dialogue here in Bali. It is a true pleasure to be your guest. And for me it is an honour to represent the Norwegian Government as the co-host of this event.

The purpose of our gathering is to create a framework for dialogue. Norway and Indonesia – each with our different backgrounds, histories and specific interests in these issues – share this ambition.

Our goal is not to come up with definitive answers.

We will quickly agree that freedom of expression is a fundamental personal right. But at the same time we know that real time communication across the globe will continue to leave us with dilemmas. Feelings, faiths and sensitivities will continue to be exposed, challenged and sometimes hurt.

Perhaps one of the real challenges we face as societies is to learn how to accept, manage and live with such dilemmas. We may not find definite answers. But by engaging in arenas like this, we may become wiser. And managing this world's complexity and interdependence requires the best there is of common wisdom.


For me, the question isn’t why we have freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression – the right to receive and exchange opinions, ideas and information – is fundamental in a democratic society. It is a fundamental and a universal human right.

Freedom of expression is protected in all of the major international and regional human rights treaties.

But in practice, as we know all too well, freedom of expression is not enjoyed by everyone. We need to underline that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression have far reaching consequences, going beyond the serious effect of infringing upon a fundamental human right.

Because such restrictions also impact on the link between human rights, peace and development.

Through his research, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has demonstrated how the establishment of parliamentary democracy and basic freedoms in India has helped to eliminate famine.

When people have freedom of speech, they can use it to make their needs and concerns heard. When people have freedom of expression, they can change society through words and ballots, rather than through guns and bullets, with the pen rather than the sword.

I believe, Mr President, that the advances of Indonesia in these recent years is another telling example of these interconnections.

At the same time, although freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, it is not absolute.

I regard my freedom to express myself as fundamental. But this freedom cannot be isolated from the context in which I express myself. Individual human rights are fundamental and universal, but society is not made up of isolated individuals.

Society, at both national and international level, is based on interaction between individuals and awareness of cultural, religious and perceptual differences.

Earlier this year, emotions ran high following the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. The episode challenged us to reflect on the following questions.

How do we exercise freedom of expression while respecting the diversity of our multicultural world?

Can we accept restrictions or limitations on a fundamental human right?

What are the long-term consequences of being insensitive to the culture, faith and emotions of others?

And what does tolerance really mean? Can my reaction to what I perceive as your intolerance come across as intolerant itself?

These questions apply to all of us: representatives of the media, representatives of the public, and representatives of governments.


In the aftermath of the cartoon affair, I was struck by how the debate quickly became dominated by the extremes.

On the one side, there were those who said that freedom of expression is absolute and that any objection to the way it is exercised amounts to treason against one of the core values of our civilisation.

On the other side, there were those who claimed that any association with the cartoons was a violation of people’s faith and that it should be subject to punishment.

In talking to a broad range of individuals, media and government representatives – in Norway and far beyond, I learned that the majority did not support the extremes. The dominant majority rejected violence.

Yes, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, but again, freedom of expression can never be exercised in isolation from the context. Awareness of other people’s sensitivities, and of their right to be treated with respect, should be part of all normal, civilised behaviour.

However, while this balancing act may be easy to envisage in theory, it is extremely hard to apply in the heat of the moment.

Local conflicts are no longer local; many of them know no borders. You, the media have the means to turn local events into global concerns – with the touch of a finger – sending a message from near to far from home.

On the other hand, lesson after lesson teaches us that no place can really be called “far from home” any longer.

We live in a global culture of immediacy. Just as the media are expected to provide immediate coverage of news stories, governments are expected to provide immediate responses and actions.

The management of this instant inter-connectivity, which sometimes borders on hyper-reality, is the real challenge.

How are we, as individuals and communities, equipped to absorb the contrasts, the nuances, the emotions, the pride and the range of opinions?

How do we establish and secure efficient channels of communication between communities and groups – be they political, cultural or religious?

One thing seems clear to me: in order to better understand the messengers – and the messages – we need a much better insight into the background, traditions, views and values of other cultures – we need this as governments, and I believe you as journalists need this too.

To many in my country – or let us say – in the West, it was a big surprise that people of the Muslim faith could react so strongly to the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. And vice versa, many Muslims could not understand how anyone could commit such an outrageous act as to print the cartoons.

Quickly the debate turned towards the dangerous dichotomy of "us and them" – we and the others.

But then we learned that we did not need to apply a global perspective to grasp this polarisation. It was unfolding in the midst of our own society.

Norwegians of the Muslim faith – many of them born in Norway – stood up and said that they too felt deeply insulted. In our own language, with reference to our own cultural code, they explained their inner feelings.

That made us ask: How do we handle this? Should we print the images? And if not, why not? And either way – what is really at stake here?

At the height of the controversy in my country, we identified an important channel of dialogue. Two organisations, the Islamic Council of Norway and the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, sat down to address the issue.

Their purpose was not to agree, since it makes little sense to seek to agree on the value of one faith versus another.

Rather, they sought to find out how to manage differences, how to understand messages, how to be sensitive to the deep-held feelings of others, how to facilitate interpretation of issues in their proper context, in different cultural settings.

This dialogue had a considerable impact. It enhanced respect across potentially tense and divisive lines. It provided the media with a broader range of background information, ideas and interpretations. It seized the middle ground and challenged the dominance of the extremes and invited many more people into the debate.

In fact, in pursuing their dialogue, these two organisations took real advantage of the freedom of speech.

It struck me that many of the young Norwegian Muslims who felt exposed and marginalised did in fact formally have freedom of expression. But in practice they feared to use it. They did not know what channel to use. They feared the reactions.

That is in itself extremely dangerous for a society like ours whose greatest challenge it is to succeed in building a society based on inclusion and tolerance.

The same of course applies to the global society.

We learned that we must do what we can to engage in dialogue. The media must open the gates so that people choose to speak out rather than exit the arena.

Some say that dialogue and compromises are signs of weakness. I disagree and I believe we need to counter such views. Dialogue and compromise should be lifted up as the most important tools in the 21 st> century.

To enter into dialogue is not to give up conflicting principles or values. It is all about finding a way to manage fundamental differences. There is evidence that those who opt for this strategy come closer to fulfilling their interests. They come closer to reaching their goals.

Nobody demonstrated this better than Nelson Mandela. His strategy of moderation and dialogue brought him and his people nothing less than complete victory.


In approaching these important issues – here in Bali and beyond – we should avoid confusing roles and responsibilities.

Governments and the media have different responsibilities and duties. In a democratic society, we meet both as common stakeholders and as opponents.

Governments have to state – and re-state - the value of freedom of expression. And they must be ready to fulfil their obligations to protect this right – not least by ensuring safe working conditions for editors, journalists, and photographers.

In short, we have the responsibility to guarantee a free press. I believe our responsibility also entails ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to exercise freedom of expression.

Then governments also have other key responsibilities that are imposed by international law or national regulations. We have a duty to protect all human rights in a fair and equal manner.

We face this challenge both in politics and in journalism: Few issues are one-dimensional. All people, but especially those who are weak and vulnerable, have the right to be protected, and not be subjected to harassment or discrimination.

To a certain extent, such protection can be secured by law. But not completely. Some of this responsibility falls to us as individuals, and the messengers, the media. Each and every one of us must endeavour to act with sensitivity and wisdom.

Some guidance can be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 sets out clearly the right to freedom of expression, but also states that its exercise carries with it special duties and responsibilities.

There are those who advocate the idea of a global professional code of conduct for the media. I remain, for my part, unconvinced, and for a number of reasons.

Firstly, and as a matter of principle, I am sceptical simply because I do not believe in more explicit limitations to the freedom of expression. I believe it would be counter-productive and that it could legitimise serious abuse by the authorities.

Secondly, I see endless hurdles and potential disputes in the drafting of such a code of conduct.

And thirdly, it is hard for me to see how such a code could or should be enforced; and if it cannot be enforced, why bother.

I believe that it is more important to increase awareness of the other fundamental human rights. These need to be respected not only in law, but also by people who are exercising other rights, such as the freedom of speech and expression.

We need greater awareness of how freedom of expression can co-exist with these other rights.

We need increased awareness of the impact that words and images can have, not only locally or at the national level, but also globally.

And we need to use our freedom of expression to state firmly that discriminatory words and images, xenophobia, hatred and threats are unacceptable.

We need more opportunities - like this gathering here in Bali - to learn more about conflicting points of view, particularly on issues relating to beliefs, ethnicity, culture and religion. We have to make sure that such perspectives are taken into account, and we need to engage with them.

One of today’s most complex issues is the extent to which there is room for freedom of expression in relation to religious matters.

Again, there can be no real freedom of religion without freedom of expression. They are interdependent, and it is therefore wrong at the outset to present them as conflicting rights.

We do, however, have to ask ourselves: Is it reasonable to refrain from expressing certain views out of consideration for religious sensitivities? How can we ensure good, ethical journalism that upholds freedom of expression while respecting religion and beliefs?

Blasphemy laws are still in force in countries in all regions of the world, including in Norway. Both the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have found that such laws are not in themselves incompatible with the right to freedom of expression.

Norway’s blasphemy laws have not been invoked since the 1930s and to be frank, they do not seem to be a suitable way to approach the cultural issues of the 21 st> Century.

As journalists and editors, you know that blasphemy laws and other legal restrictions on press freedom are prone to be misused to silence critical questions about religion and authority. Disproportionate and harsh penalties for blasphemy also undermine democracy.

In short, regulations will never be the final answer. It is equally important to discuss the extent to which the media should take into account sensitivities that are not protected by law, but nonetheless deeply held. Editors make such decisions every day. What ethical filter is guiding their choices?


This brings me to a final remark on the key issue of general tolerance. A pluralistic society must be open to a wide range of views.

Indonesia, with its myriad of cultures, knows all about this, and we can learn a lot from your experience. As you wrote in the International Herald Tribune back in February Mr President, ”it is tolerance that protects freedom, harnesses diversity, strengthens peace and delivers progress”.

Towards the end of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, he writes “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.

This demonstrates the power of human rights: the more widely-accepted rights are, the more you share rights, the stronger they become. This also applies to freedom of expression.

Experience and lessons learned tell us that the medium is the message. Taking this one step further, independent media can build bridges, bring opposing parties closer, and keep vital dialogues going between nations, cultures, generations, and religions.

As a prime instrument of a vibrant democracy the media can shed light on intolerance, bring it out in the open and expose message to public scrutiny.

And as we gather in a global setting, it is worth recalling that the media are the best, perhaps the only, instrument for world dialogue, being both global and local at the same time. They cross language barriers, set agendas, and direct the public’s focus; they are societies’ watchdogs.

This year, we mark that one hundred years have passed since Norway's great global dramatist Henrik Ibsen died.

The media at that time, in many countries, followed the publication of his works and their stage premieres closely. Ibsen’s roots were firmly in Norway, but he lived abroad for many years and saw himself more as a world citizen than a Norwegian.

He created the most famous Norwegian cosmopolitan in world literature – Peer Gynt – and audiences are still going to see this play all over the world. In a few weeks’ time Peer Gynt will be staged in Central Park, New York, and in two months’ time at the library in Alexandria, Egypt.

The main character, Peer, wants everything, but not what he has got. So Ibsen taught him a lesson – and Ibsen is still teaching us today – with the clarion call – “Man, to thyself be true”.

Thank you for coming to Bali – and a sincere thank you to Bali for having us all.

If this turns out to be a valuable exercise, then the Norwegian Government would be proud to host a follow up event in Norway sometimes next year.

Because a global inter-media dialogue cannot be closed. It must go on – as a vibrant sign of our belief in freedom of expression, tolerance, human rights and democracy.


Web site of Global Inter-Media Dialogue see here.