Sunday Leader – An Independent Voice
By Hilde Haraldstad Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka
Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy. In 2008, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration establishes freedom of expression as a fundamental right. Freedom of expression is recognized as a fundamental right because it is essential for the realization and protection of other fundamental rights and freedoms, like freedom of assembly, the freedom of religion and the right to have access to information. Today, however, restrictions on access to knowledge threaten not only to deny millions their human rights, but also to hold millions back economically and prevent them from developing their potential. It is a global phenomenon; there are restrictions on news and information in a number of countries, also in Europe.
Globally, the list of challenges is long. New information technology holds the potential to strengthen the opportunity to exercise the freedom of expression. But it is also true that new obstacles emerge as technology develops. We see cases of Internet censorship and surveillance. We see cases of You Tube being blocked. We see violence, imprisonment and harassment of journalists. According to the international organization “Reporters without Borders,” 23 journalists have been killed so far in 2012 worldwide, 163 have been imprisoned. We see restrictions on access to information. We see restrictions on radio broadcasts by foreign radio stations and the withdrawal of broadcasting licenses. The contemporary challenges are manifold. Concentration of media ownership, for example through mergers and acquisitions, may define the space for expression and the exchange of opinions. And, finally, financial hardship has hit many media companies and publishing houses hard during the last years.
Independent media are crucial in the efforts to safeguard democracy, prevent war and violent conflict, and fight corruption. The media can put a spotlight on intolerance and expose injustice and discrimination. When independent media function well, governmental officials like myself are held accountable. Protecting freedom of speech has been a priority for Norway for many years. We have devoted resources, both nationally and internationally, to the protection and promotion of media freedom. Norway forms part of several international so-called openness-initiatives, which aim to make it easier for the media to get information, control and withstand pressure from certain groups in society. We know that journalists all over the world are facing difficulties in carrying out their work. The Norwegian Government gives priority to the training and safety of media personnel so that they can do their job, be eyewitnesses and inform the public. We support several international media organizations in this work.
However, the real advocates of freedom of expression are the journalists themselves and the media institutions where they work. I am pleased to serve as Ambassador in a country where as many as five newspapers are delivered to my door every day, and even more on a Sunday. The rich and multifaceted media landscape is among Sri Lanka’s assets. At the same time we know that media face challenges, that also this newspaper has experienced, with the murder of editor-in-chief Lasantha Wickremetunga in 2009 as the most serious one. The yet to be approved Freedom of Information Act, has many proponents in Sri Lanka. Freedom of speech is an intrinsic value. I was pleased to accept the invitation to write here today because I believe that it is crucial in a democracy and healthy for a society that there is space for different voices and views. Sunday Leader is one such independent voice, and we at the Norwegian Embassy are pleased to congratulate you with 18 years of circulation.