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Izabela Kisic, Speech at the international conference “Freedom of Expression, Media Freedoms and (Self) Censorship in OSCE Area”

Belgrade, 20-21 July 2015

“If liberty means anything at all,
it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell



Your excellences,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,


I would like to welcome you on behalf of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia and to thank you for recognizing the importance of this conference and accepting our invitation to participate in it.

The conference is organized in the framework of the civil society engagement in the implementation of the OSCE Human Dimension Commitments (through Civic Solidarity Platform), one of the leadng network of civil society organizations from OSCE countries.

This conference would not be possible without the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Belgrade.

The goal of the conference is to raise awareness on how to best promote and bolster freedom of expression and media pluralism, and counter (self) censorship within of the OSCE area. The aim is to identify concrete mechanisms to this goal, to explore which media legislation, policies and practices best contribute to an open, informed society and accountability of governments.

Freedom of the media and freedom of expression is in the best interest of the entire society, not just the media and media organizations. Therefore, representatives of the civil society are among the conference participants, making this conference unique. This is a contribution to media pluralism and to finding mechanisms for participation of the civil society in defining public interests.

Freedom of expression and freedom of thought are based on the assumption of a democratic society that allows a free flow of information in the media and in the public sphere. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to information and opinions that the state is opposed to.

Representative on Freefom of the Media Dunja Mijatović stated: „Journalists open the processes in many countries, which may lead to many good or many bad developments. We witnessed journalism in this area during the ‘90s and I hope that this remained in the past. Solidarity is important in all of that.”

Our societies are only at the beginning of achieving freedoms, including the freedom of expression. It is thus very important for OSCE institutions to recognize that violations to freedom of expression further violate democratization and pluralism of our societies, as well as their overall security.

Our colleagues and friends in some OSCE member states face drastic punishments for saying what the elites do not want to hear. They are subjects to illegal trials, imprisonment, threats, violence and murders, while the perpetrators go unpunished.

Rasul Jafarov, Azerbaijani activist who became known for his campaigns in support of artistic freedom of expression and political prisoners, today is himself a political prisoner.

In March 2015, the Serbian OSCE Chairmanship organized a conference in Belgrade in cooperation with the Office of the OSCE Representative for the Freedom of the Media. The conference focused on many important media issues, such as safety of journalists and fighting impunity for violence against journalists.

Propaganda is another important topic for all OSCE member states, as it encourages hatred and divisions between the people. I am pleased to say that OSCE defines propaganda as one of its priorities. One can draw many lessons from the Western Balkans in this context, not only for the post-conflict societies but also for transition countries.

Propaganda does not end with the war. Its consequences are long lasting and far reaching because they have long-term effect on societal attitudes. Deconstruction of stereotypes, prejudice and lies that these attitudes are based on is only possible by beginning the dialogue about causes of conflicts.

Facing the past and legacy of the ‘90s burdens each country individually, as well as their regional relations. The media are particularly important in this process, because they often maintain the atmosphere that prevents the open dialogue. Ethnic discourse in the media is still dominant and it marginalizes opinions of the minorities.

The Serbian media certainly have a leading role, as they relativize and deny Serbia’s responsibility. Marking 20 years since Srebrenica genocide demonstrated once again the power of media manipulation.

The media are also part of a wider social context, which is not favorable in the Western Balkans and many other countries. Post-socialist societies have retraditionalized and many of them show signs of regression. All of this explains the pressure of political elites on freedom of expression.

Due to repressive political climate, self-censorship, conformism and opportunism became the biggest enemies of the freedom of expression and artistic and academic freedoms. It is a challenge to protect freedom of expression and the work of journalists in these countries, in accordance with ethical and professional standards in the private sector.

Media privatization and transparent ownership of the media are preconditions for media pluralism. However, they are followed by some controversies. The model of privatization and commercialization of the media that was implemented in the poor economies in the Western Balkans and outside of this region, did not bring about desired results in media pluralism and improving the freedom of expression.

Many Western Balkans countries adopted new media legislation in accordance with the EU standards. However, it became clear that it is not sufficient to have good legislation, but also to have the political will and social climate propitious to the development of the freedom of expression culture.

The case of the B92 media outlet best illustrates the negative consequences of privatization. All the TV shows that had an important role in the opening of dialogue in Serbia have been cancelled. Since a couple of days ago, the informative program of Radio B92 is no longer broadcasted. During the ‘90s, this radio station had a missionary role and was one of the Western Balkans’ freedom of expression champions. Radio B92 was founded in 1989 in very modest conditions. It broadcast the program during war time, countered non-ethical reporting of the media and nationalism in a homogenous nationalist environment.

Radio B92 was establishing its credibility for years and no other media have such influence today.

The discussions at this conference should provide an important insight into the most pressing issues and to possible lessons learned. Racism, nationalism, misogyny, homophobia and hate speech have increased in the offline and online media through the OSCE area.

In addition to reaffirming the principles of the protection of freedom of expression in the media, we will also try to reaffirm the principles relating to academic and artistic freedoms.

The balance between countering hate speech and protecting freedom of expression can only be achieved through reaffirming ethnical and professional standards in the media.

One of the conference results will be recommendations to OSCE Chairmanship and other OSCE institutions. We will also work on the recommendations for the Declaration on the Freedom of Expression, which is being prepared for the Parallel Civil Society Conference to be held on the eve of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you all a successful conference.



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