Norway All Out To Promote Freedom Of Expression

By Azman Ujang, Bernama,

Bali : Norway will intensify efforts and seek to be more strategic in promoting freedom of expression and strengthening free and independent media, a senior official of the Scandinavian nation said here Wednesday.

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Deputy Minister of Culture and Church Affairs Wegard Harsvik said at the centre of such efforts would be to beef up Norwegian response to threats against and harassment of journalists.

“When journalists are killed while performing their work, we will use all possible channels to ensure that impunity does not prevail,” he told the third Global Inter-Media Dialogue which was opened by Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Hassan Wirajuda.

Over 130 journalists from over 60 countries are here for the two-day conference jointly organised for the first time in 2006 by the governments of Indonesia and Norway as a constructive response to the controversy over the publication of cartoons that depicted Prophet Muhammad and the highly emotional reaction that they triggered.

Noting that 86 journalists were killed last year, the highest since 1994, Harsvik said it was necessary for Norway to forge closer cooperation with international press organisations and to institutionalise free speech at both international and national levels.

Norway had started sponsoring media projects in the Middle East, East Africa, Afghanistan and Russia while hosting the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Oslo in September.

And in June next year, Norway would organise a global freedom of expression event also in Oslo.

The deputy minister said Norway would also increase funding for freedom or expression and independent media efforts by US$3 million.

The money would be used to boost freedom of expression and independent media in countries in conflict and countries where journalists were under pressure.

Norway, he added, would also seek appropriate ways of lifting the issue higher up on the international agenda in the wide range of multilateral organisations as well as with countries sharing the same approach.

In his view, threats to journalists were not only dangerous for the journalists themselves but society as a whole at local, national and international levels.

As he put it: “Because silencing journalists strangles the flow of information. Lack of information breeds ignorance. Ignorance creates misunderstanding and mistrust. And mistrust breeds conflict.”

Harsvik said although new controversies like the cartoons would emerge in future, such a dialogue among journalists would create networks and awareness and understanding to help them not to be caught off-guard and to prevent conflicts from escalating out of control.

A total of 139 people lost their lives in violent incidents that ensued in protests against the controversial cartoons first published in a newspaper in Denmark.