Warsaw Human Dimension Conference: Statement on Freedom of Expression

Delivered by Counsellor Marit H. Lillealtern, Plenary Session IV, Warsaw, 30 September 2022.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Without freedom of expression there can be no democracy. Freedom of expression and access to reliable information are important not only for each individual, but for the sustainable development of societies. This right is enshrined in Article 19 of the ICCPR and guaranteed to all without discrimination. The OSCE acquis reaffirms it time and time again. Yet, we see a different picture in our region today.

Broad and vague laws are imposed, existing laws abused, and threats and censorship used to silence dissent, civil society, and independent media. Disinformation strategies manipulate public opinion. And Norway will not recognize sham referendums held under military occupation.

A commission mandated by my government, has reviewed the frameworks for freedom of expression in Norway. Even if there is a high degree of freedom of expression, the commission reports challenges connected to for example hate speech and harassment. Only around 10 % of the population participate actively in public debate, reminding us that the important online sphere is still mainly an arena for receiving information for most Norwegians.

Efforts are needed to ensure that freedom of expression is safeguarded as new forms of communication and new digital platforms are developed. Technologies have led to unprecedented human progress, but this digital era has also brought with it new challenges in protecting human rights and democracy. Data protection issues, surveillance technologies, online harassment, the spread of disinformation, and protection of the freedom of expression, are among these concerns.

The right to freedom of expression is not limited to what is broadcasted or published in traditional mass media; it certainly also applies to information, opinions and ideas that are shared online.

The spread of hate speech, which is amplified by digital and social media counteracts an inclusive public discourse based on tolerance and mutual respect. Measures against hate speech must however not lead to restrictions in the freedom of expression that are contradictory to international standards. Discriminatory or hateful expressions that are not, and should not be, prohibited, may nevertheless be harmful.

Independent and pluralistic media promoting the values of transparency, participation and accountability are indispensable when ensuring democratic governance. We must ensure a safe working environment for journalists, online and offline. Access to safe communication tools for journalists and their sources is critical, as we see that state and non-state actors use digital tools for illegal surveillance.

Norway strongly supports the work of the OSCE, and in particular of the Representative on Freedom of the Media, to assist States in implementing their commitments to safeguard the freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information without interference and regardless of frontiers.

Thank you.