» Irina Bokova Champions Free Speech at Sweden’s Almedalen Week
07.07.2016 - ODG

Irina Bokova Champions Free Speech at Sweden’s Almedalen Week


On 7 July, 2016, the UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, gave the keynote speech at an event called “Who will take the political responsibility to protect free speech?”, arranged by Swedish Radio, during Sweden’s Almedalen Week.

The event featured the participation of H.E. Ms. Alice Bah Kuhnke, Minister for Culture and Democracy, along with a panel including Maria Persson Löfgren, foreign correspondent for Swedish Radio, Jonathan Lundqvist, from Swedish Reporters without Borders, and Thomas Mattsson, Editor in Chief of Expressen. The event began with an interview with the 2016 Laureate of the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, Ms Khadija Ismayilova.

Almedalen Week is Sweden’s major annual political gathering of political parties, government and political leaders, as well as media. The week features over a thousand events and includes several tens of thousands of participants.

Irina Bokova thanked Swedish Radio and especially Director-General Cilla Benkö for the invitation – highlighting the depth of Sweden’s commitment to defending freedom of expression and access to information.

“Freedom of expression is the foundation on which all the other freedoms rest,” said the Director-General. “It is the bedrock of democratic society, good governance, the rule of law, transparency and accountability. Fundamentally, I believe it goes to the heart of what it means to be human.”

She spoke of the paradoxes facing freedom of expression today, at a time when creating and sharing knowledge has never been so borderless, but when steep new challenges are arising – in the lack of pluralism, legal and regulatory mechanisms of control, and national legislation on media and freedom of information that fail to meet international standards.

“Most tragic of all, 825 journalists have lost their lives over the past decade,” she said. “Most are not correspondents in war settings, but local journalists reporting on corruption and criminality. This is made worse because less than six percent of killings have been resolved.”

The Director-General highlighted the leadership role of UNESCO as the United Nations agency working on the frontlines of free speech across the world, to enhance the safety of journalists, and to support media development.

This includes spearheading the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity – working with Governments and professional associations, to establish media monitoring committees, to create national mechanisms, to train journalists.

“In Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile, in Tunisia, we are working with educational institutions, with justice ministries and security forces, to train judges, to sharpen the work of law enforcement.”

She pointed to UNESCO’s work in advancing gender equality in and ‎through the media, as well in fighting impunity, and defending rights and freedoms online, through the Internet. 

“Sweden plays an outstanding role in all this,” she said. “I thank the Swedish Government for its champion leadership, and support to UNESCO, namely through the Swedish International Development Agency.”

The Director-General pointed to the success of projects supported by Sweden in the Arab region, in Latin America and in South East Asia – and linked all of this to action to take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, notably SDG 16 target 10: “to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”

“Rights and freedoms are ends in themselves – they are also drivers of positive change across the board,” she said.

In her intervention, Ms. Alice Bah Kuhnke, Minister for Culture and Democracy, spoke of Sweden’s commitment and action to defend freedom of expression and free speech -- including through the important platform provided by UNESCO.

This was followed by a panel debate with Thomas Mattsson, Jonathan Lundqvist and Maria Persson Löfgren on their experience in the field.

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