We cannot stand idly by while journalists are murdered

Opinion piece by Margot Wallström in Aftonbladet on 8 January 2018.

Online hate and disinformation make the need for journalists greater than ever.

More than 800 journalists have been murdered in the past decade. Nine out of ten murders remain unsolved. This data comes from UNESCO, which recently launched its report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development. The Government is now strengthening efforts to protect journalists' safety.

When the world becomes more and more insecure, when democracy is under pressure and human rights are questioned – it is then that we need journalists most. It is they who uphold free speech and hold those of us in power accountable. When they are threatened, we must do everything in our power to protect them.

We can never accept threats and hatred being directed at journalists for doing their job, or the fact that women journalists are often particularly subjected to threats and harassment just because they are women. We cannot stand idly by as organised online hate grows and is linked to disinformation campaigns.

Social debate is like air in the lungs of democracy. Democracy is best served when many voices and perspectives are heard.
Sweden has long had a strong voice on these issues. We have actively placed the issue of journalists' safety in focus in the UN, the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. It was Sweden that initiated the pioneering resolution in the UN Human Rights Council that confirmed that human rights, including freedom of expression, must be respected both offline and online.

Between 2014 and 2017, Sweden has quadrupled its financial support to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). During this period we have also been on UNESCO's Executive Board and have been a strong driving force for UNESCO to strengthen its work on freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

Sweden has therefore submitted several resolutions in UNESCO's Executive Board and General Conference urging all member states to strengthen their national efforts to protect journalists from violence and to counter impunity.

Last year, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs drew the attention of the world to the first free speech act in the world, the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act, which celebrated its 250th anniversary. At an international expert meeting in Stockholm, which I hosted, hate and threats against women journalists were discussed.

This year, we have also expanded our reports on human rights, in which freedom of expression and freedom of the press issues are central in all 135 countries that are analysed. All of these reports are published on the MFA website.

In the coming year, the Government's focus on freedom of expression and journalists' safety will intensify.

To follow up last year's expert seminar, I will invite national and international experts, journalists, civil society organisations and particularly engaged states for discussions.

The aim is to move from words to action and agree a number of voluntary commitments by the participating states.

The Institute for Further Education of Journalists and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs have been instructed to jointly implement a pilot study to see how a digital support centre for threatened women journalists could be arranged.

The Government also decided to support a course for journalists held by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in Sanremo, Italy, in December. The course aims to strengthen their knowledge of the protection that international humanitarian law provides to the media.
Threats to journalists and writers are also a threat to democracy. We must never stand idly by while journalists are silenced. We must stand up against restrictions to freedom of expression regardless of where or how they are expressed.