Speech by Margot Wallström at seminar on hate speech and threats against women journalists

Stockholm, 2 December 2016. Check against delivery.

This year we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act the first of its kind in the world. The significance of freedom of the press act cannot be overestimated.

The Act abolished censorship of all printed publications, and guaranteed public access to official documents and the right and opportunity to engage in political debate.

The Freedom of the Press Act has played a pivotal role in the development of the modern Swedish society.

Freedom of expression and opinion, transparency and access to information are prerequisites for democratic societies, where the rule of law applies and where everyone's human rights are respected.

These rights are also a prerequisite for innovation, debate, scrutiny and accountability – all valuable ingredients of a free and open society.

At the same time, we are acutely aware of the many challenges and difficulties facing the rights and fundamental freedoms that the Act set out to safeguard, and which are increasingly under attack around the world.

Today, in many places around the world, we see a repressive media climate, where disinformation and propaganda go hand in hand with deteriorating security and working conditions for journalists. Confidence in the media is decreasing, and the space human rights defenders and advocates of democracy have to work in is shrinking. At the same time, repressive laws targeting journalists are being adopted in many states.

Being a journalist is often a dangerous profession to engage in, especially when trying to do so in the most risky of contexts.

The risks and dangers to female journalists are often higher than those encountered by their male counterparts.

Women face not only the implicit dangers of hostile environments, but of cultural and societal prejudice as well.

As we face a worsening working environment for female journalists, it is as important as ever to defend the human rights and freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

Our gathering here today is a celebration of all journalists who refuse to be silenced, with a special focus on female journalists.

Journalism is one of the professions that is most exposed to threats; this is especially true for female journalists. They are intimidated and harassed not only for being journalists, but also on grounds of their sex.
From a global perspective, violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations. Despite the amount of attention given to the issue, it is regrettably as common as ever.

This constitutes not only a threat to women and qualitative journalism, but also to freedom of expression, equality and democracy. We must never forget that democracy thrives when a plurality of voices are heard. Unfortunately, many voices are under attack.

Female journalists can offer a different news agenda and different insight into regular news stories if they are allowed to operate and work without fear for their safety and well-being.

The plague of the violence against women is perhaps even more present in cyberspace. Attacks on female journalists online are overwhelmingly sexual in nature, including rape threats, cyberstalking, blackmail and disinformation.

While the opportunities offered by the internet vastly outweigh the challenges, there are still a number of issues to deal with. Technology has brought us many improvements and we are dependent on the internet in all aspects of our lives. The internet has enabled easier and faster communication as well as borderless connections between people, and the free flow of ideas and empowerment of individuals.
But information technology has also blurred the line between private and public, and professional and non-professional, and has been used to threaten and keep female journalists living in fear. The internet has put women in the line of fire to an even greater degree. Online harassment is more dangerous because of its ability to spread around the world and because once it's online, it stays online.

From a Swedish perspective, we are convinced that the only way forward is to promote, protect and defend freedom of expression and opinion. We need to work continuously on different levels to ensure that these issues are never forgotten or ignored.

Journalism is a very effective means of countering disinformation and combatting incitement to violence and hatred.

It can be a strong antidote against all types of prejudices.
Allow me to mention a few examples of concrete action moving the issue forward: Last year, UNESCO adopted a resolution on safety for journalists presented by Sweden.

Sweden provides broad support to journalists and human rights defenders as part of our development cooperation.

Sweden is a driving force in implementing the UN action plan for the safety of journalists and combatting impunity.

Safety of journalists is also a recurring feature in the UN Human Rights Council as well as the General Assembly.

Through the Swedish development agency and the Swedish institute, we help fund journalist training and provide support to independent media outlets and investigative journalism.

On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the Freedom of the Press Act and the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has launched a communication campaign highlighting the benefits of freedom of expression and opinion, and transparency.

I feel truly privileged to be in this room with you all and take part in this significant event.

We must keep in mind that doing the right thing is not always easy, it can come at a high price, but in our continuous global struggle for freedom of expression and opinion, as well as for democracy, we must not deviate from this path.