Speech by Alice Bah Kuhnke at Stockholm Internet Forum
Stockholm, 17 May 2017.
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Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues!
I am very honoured and proud to be here this morning. I thank Lennart Båge and Sida for the invitation and the possibility to address this truly international Forum. A warm welcome to Sweden and to Stockholm!
Freedom. It is the best word I know. It is what guides me in my work as a politician and Minister for Culture and Democracy in the Swedish Government. Freedom for the media, the free and independent arts, the freedom of individuals to become who they want to be without discrimination. Freedom of speech, even when it hurts. Countering arguments of populists with the arguments of a free society where we all can access information, build our own opinion, where we all can live freely.
Not long ago, many of us felt that freedom of expression and democratic values were being strengthened in many countries where this previously had been limited. The path towards more freedom appeared to be guaranteed. But over the last few years we have seen the opposite development in many parts of the world. This is true not at least for Europe and its neighbouring countries, where we certainly did not expect this to happen. Where we promised each other that this would not happen, again. The development is deeply worrying.
We are guaranteeing the freedom of speech and the free press in Sweden. Not all politicians in the Swedish Parliament agree on this, but the majority still stand strong. However, we are witnessing more problems. We are experiencing a harsher debate climate and increasing threats in the Swedish debate.
Journalists, artists, elected officials and authors are threatened and attacked for their works and their opinions. Today more than before. It is unacceptable, not only because of the personal consequences, but they may also have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression, on the public watchdog role of journalists and on public debate in general. It is a critical challenge for us, to safeguard the democratic and open society, which I believe is at risk.
The media has, as we all know, a vital role to play in promoting transparency and accountability. Whether it is scrutiny of the performance of the government, revealing corruption or reporting on crimes, the media has to be able to do its’ work in an open way. Threats on journalists can lead to self-censorship and that it is a major threat to democracy which is high on my government’s agenda.
The media must be able to operate in an environment free of fear. Journalists must be able to investigate important issues and express informed opinion without fear of prosecution. In order for the media to be able to fulfill its’ corner stone role in a democracy, journalists, bloggers, media organizations and individuals must be allowed to discuss and debate issues freely and safely.
In this context we also urgently need to join forces and step up against the specific challenges faced by female journalists. It is alarming that female journalists are increasingly being abused online. The Swedish government is a “feminist government”, the world’s first officially feminist government. Later today, you will hear from my dear colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Margot Wallström, addressing what Sweden does globally as a feminist government. Bringing the situation of female journalist to the top of relevant international as well as national agendas is one of our priorities.
Sweden works closely with Unesco on how to develop and strengthen the UN’s work with a view to improve the safety of journalists worldwide and on the issue of impunity. I wish to take this opportunity to highlight Unesco’s never-ending efforts and tireless work on these very important issues of mutual concern.
The media landscape is changing rapidly, creating both opportunities and challenges for freedom of expression and media freedom. In many countries the media is shifting – or has already shifted – from traditional newspapers and TV to digital distribution channels. Social media is playing a big part in this fast-growing revolution, often being the main arena for communication and public debate.
Internet and social media platforms are empowering citizens to fully use their right to freedom of expression and access to information to disseminate opinions, information and news. New technology is an enabler of democratic development. But we have also seen how technology can be used to spread disinformation and act as channels of hate and threats.
Disinformation risk undermining trust in established media and institutions, and promoting the spread of online echo chambers, where conspiracy theories and half-truths become the perceived truth. But how come this has not been addressed or reported is a question that then will be asked? Disinformation erodes citizens’ trust in institutions on which democratic societies are built. That is why, now more than ever, tools and learning about critical thinking and source criticism must be on the political “to do-list”.
Dear colleagues, distinguished participants, The goal for me as minister for culture and democracy is to safeguard the democratic right to information, in a way that complies with the needs of the person. This is a matter of democracy, a matter of human rights and also of course a matter of access to culture. In the world that we share today all countries need to return to the core values of humanism, democracy and inclusion as expressed in the fundamental human rights. In this work access to information, the right to free speech, the right to express oneself without censorship or threats of violence is truly fundamental. It cannot be underlined enough.
The role of the state must be to guarantee and further these rights, not to hamper them or diminish them. Those of us who truly believe in these values have no time to rest; we have to get up on our feet. Our voices are needed; let’s make the best use of them.