Media freedom, internet freedom, freedom of expression at large are the core for a free world, for a free mind. They constitute what democracy is and serve for each and everyone of us as the foundation to make informed decisions. What if this is compromised? „From an Estonian perspective, having lived under the repressive regime for too long, we understand what it means to desperately fight for the right to speak our minds and have independent media. We are prepared to lead the efforts to improve the media situation globally.“, states Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets.
The world continues to be an unsafe place for journalists, the year 2021 counted according to Reporters Without Borders´ (RSF) the record number of journalists, 488, being detained in the world, among those 60 women, while another 65 are being held hostage. The 46 journalists killed in 2021 can be the lowest number in 20 years, yet every lost journalist is a great loss to the society and democracy. Shining light to unpleasant realities remains an undesired act and methods to suppress those acts are brutal.
The surge of disinformation, its global outreach and the difficulty to find the delicate balance between supressing fake news, disinformation and enabling the freedom of expression, have greatly complicated the picture. The covid-19 pandemic has thrown a light onto how quickly disinformation can spread through social media channels. While trying to combat it in this interconnected world we have to make sure that we are not overstepping the fine line of privacy and freedom of expression and it is only so little we can do against it in an without.
What can the democratic world then do to relieve this dire situation where arbitrary persecution of journalists face impunity on highest level in many countries and disinformation spreads like bushfire?
On the global scale to make a real difference is to join with like-minded allies and to systematically pursue the issue and with all diplomatic means put pressure on the perpetrators.
Two and a half years ago the Media Freedom Coalition, counting 50 member countries today, was established to advocate for media freedom and safety of journalists and to hold those accountable who harm journalists for doing their job. The Coalition follows actively the situation of media and freedom of expression across the world and issues statements on gravest situations, and aims to lend a hand where the need is direst.
Foreign Minister Liimets points out that although there is a broad global consensus that the role of media and internet is to first and foremost inform its citizens, the differences arise in the extent to what degree this information is controlled and managed. „Estonia having the second freest internet according to Freedom House and ranking in the top15 in the World Press Freedom Index, it is clear that for us, ensuring the freedom of expression in all forms is of crucial importance. We need to find ways to fight disinformation without compromising the freedom of expression.“, she adds.
Estonia, as many others in the Media Freedom Coalition is also a member of the Freedom Online Coalition and as the organiser of the upcoming Global Conference on Media Freedom on February 9-10th, Estonia will seek to build synergies between the two. The question of how these two coalitions could support each other and learn from each others` best practices will be one of the core elements of the conference and for the future cooperation of the two coalitions.