Index-led Mapping Media Freedom project officially launches in London

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship officially launched its Mapping Media Freedom platform at the London residence of Swedish Ambassador Torbjörn Sohlström on Wednesday 22 June.

Mapping Media Freedom is a database tracking threats and violations against press freedom across 42 European countries. The data is mapped to help raise awareness of the pressure journalists face as they do their jobs and help officials to take action to protect press freedom across Europe.

The event attracted journalists and internet rights activists to representatives from organisations devoted to freedom of expression, who were welcomed to the launch by Sohlström had received a special invitation from the ambassador.

Melody Patry, Index on Censorship’s head of advocacy, introduced the MMF tool and reminded the audience of why this project is necessary. She quizzed the audience on headlines mapped during the last month, asking them to guess which country offences took place in. Patry said that these offences take place throughout Europe, not just in countries with authoritarian governments. “It’s a way of highlighting problems, it’s a way of bringing people into the conversation,” Ambassador Sohlström said about the new tool.

Chair of Index on Censorship and Times columnist David Aaronovitch, who participated in a panel discussion with fellow journalists, former head of Swedish Pen Ola Larsmo and Director of BBC World Service Group Francesca Unsworth,  said that the media are facing a crisis of authority. “Both everybody and nobody can be believed.” According to Aaronovitch, this state of authority crisis tends to create a demand for new forms of censorship and problems journalists.

The journalists participated in a discussion, chaired by Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg, that examined threats against journalists, hate speech and internet censorship. Unsworth suggested that the world is becoming more authoritarian regarding free speech rights, while Larsmo added that rights were generally moving in a “three steps forward, two steps back,” pattern, and we are living in a moment of retreat.

“People crave the kind of impartial journalism offered by mainstream media,” Unsworth said, noting that there is still a role for journalists.

Larsmo emphasised that common people should understand that their freedom is linked to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

With thanks to Edwardian Hotels London[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1498211658950-6ccf6854-da7e-3″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Wikileaks – the view from Sweden part 2

During the last few weeks, Wikileaks has been in focus in all kinds of media worldwide. This has certainly been the case in Sweden, and for a number of very different reasons.

But if Wikileaks represents a new sort of journalism, as some commentators have been arguing, then the media response has followed its own and rather dated logic. The first two rounds of leaked US documents stirred up a debate concerning their content —  including new information about US military activities in Iraq. The latest round, Cablegate, which exposes diplomatic cables has led to a heated discussion about Wikileaks itself. As McLuhan (almost) put it, the medium risks becoming the message.

Not that the Cablegate documents aren’t interesting in themselves. The Swedes discovered that their government, after first letting the CIA land planes making secret prisoner transports changed their minds about the system and discontinued cooeperation in 2006. This was very welcome news. But the released diplomatic correspondence started a discussion about the nature of secrecy itself — what is legitimate discretion and what is just much smoke and mirrors, intended to keep citizens in the dark?

Interesting as that may be from a philosophical point of view, the real discussion point this time is Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange — after the allegations of sexual harassment and rape emerged during his stay in Sweden. Ironically, the matter has been thoroughly exposed on Swedish blogs and websites. Everyone who wants to know the details of the allegations can find names, places and other “facts” online —  very much in the spirit of Wikileaks itself. What you learn as you step into this mire of allegations, counter-allegations, facts and speculations is how sordid and complicated the matter is. The general opinion in Sweden — if indeed such an opinion really can be discerned — is that Assange should face a Swedish court and, probably, be released for lack of evidence. Not many commentators here really believe that he runs the risk of being delivered into the hands of the US authorities.

If we restrict our discussion to Wikileaks as a phenomenon in its own right, the general opinion in the Swedish press (with few divergent voices) is that something of this kind is necessary and even welcome — if handled with the proper journalistic ethos. As columnist Lars Linder argues in the largest Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter (12/12). “Wikileaks operate within the territory of classic journalism.” As Linder put it: “Wikileaks has shown us that what the powers that be really hide behind their speeches on “security” and “responsibility” — and that is ‘too much’.”

Wikileaks operates within the spirit of the classic muck-raking journalism that we tend to respect and consider more or less heroic — 10 to 20 years after the fact. During the Watergate crisis the Washington Post was accused of having a hidden (left-wing Democratic) political agenda and meddling in things they did not fully grasp. Today we consider their exposure of Nixon as a triumph of democracy. Wikileaks’ abilility to rally support is, of course, rooted in another fact: that many of the democratic states during the so-called “War on Terror” have been rolling back fundamental human rights. In that context the Wikileaks’ phenomenon can be regarded as a necessary push in the other direction.

Therefore it is even more outrageous that media channels in the above-mentioned democratic countries like the US and Canada have been filled with comments that must be seen as death threats. There is no other way to interpret quotes from for example Fox news contributor Bob Beckel who, speaking about Assange, encourages his viewers to “illegally shoot the son of a bitch”. There have been numerous such quotes during the recent weeks.

And this brings us to the bottom line: if democratic states shut down inopportunistic news channels with questionable or even illegal means — and if death threats to journalists are accepted as part of common political discourse — what is there to say the next time a journalist is shot in Mexico or put behind bars in China or Iran? Nothing. As Pen International states: “In a world where journalists are regularly physically attacked, imprisoned and killed with impunity, calling for the death of a journalist is irresponsible and deplorable.”

And that, my friends, is a wake-up call.

Ola Larsmo is a Swedish novelist and freelance critic, and president of Swedish PEN