Internet must remain a forum for free speech, states OSCE conference in Tirana

Tirana – Media freedom in the South East European region is deteriorating, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today told journalists and government authorities today at the conclusion of a conference in Tirana, Albania. “Many problems are not being addressed, many questions not answered. Public broadcasters are not yet fully reformed; independence of the regulators is endangered or not guaranteed; digitalization of electronic media is behind schedule, putting media pluralism at risk; and the safety of journalists is threatened,” said Mijatović.

“If the situation does not improve what is ultimately at stake is freedom and democracy,” adding that the safety of journalists was a pressing problem. “Violence, harassment and intimidation against journalists are an attack on democracy itself,” she stressed.

More than 180 journalists, representatives of civil society, government and academics from the region, along with international experts, discussed the most pressing media freedom issues in the region, with Mijatović giving some of the conclusions and recommendations from the two days of discussions.

Participants discussed the importance of applying media freedom principle to all forms of journalism, be it professional, open or “citizen” journalism.  They concluded that the Internet must remain an open public forum for free speech and expression, with authorities refraining from over-regulation and mandatory blocking of online content or websites.

They also called for the right of free access to information to be clearly established in law in line with OSCE standards, with mechanisms for effective oversight and appeals by independent bodies put in place. Spending on advertising by public companies must be regulated so that it is not used to put pressure on the media.

“Broadcast regulators must be free from political pressures, have the independence and the resources to create a pluralistic media landscape. Self-regulatory mechanisms, offline and online, should be developed by journalists themselves, without undue interference from state and business,” she said.

She stressed the need for broadcasting to be digitalized to stimulate media pluralism, with public access to a free-to-air package that includes public service broadcasters. A master class on digitalization for regulators and experts run by the Albany Associates took place during the conference.

The conclusions and recommendations from the conference will be shortly published by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and distributed to the authorities of the relevant OSCE participating States.

Source: OSCE