Speech given by Fojo’s Director Kersti Forsberg during the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Stockholm on its 30th anniversary.
“It has been said that there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. If we for a moment entertain the idea that hell exists, I can imagine that there is a special place in hell for legislators who restrict the right to information. And I am quite sure that there is a special place in hell for politicians who call journalists enemies of the people. In Dante’s Inferno there are nine levels. These politicians are at the bottom of this inferno.
Hell is ablaze – but so are we. We are passionate about journalism, we are passionate about freedom of the press, about the principle of the public’s right to information, about the world’s oldest law on freedom of the press and we are passionate about everyone – not just journalists – being able to express their opinions freely.
Today, 72% of the world’s population – 5.7 billion people – live in an autocracy. More than half of the world’s population lives in a dictatorship, a closed country where there is no free press and where people are afraid to freely express their opinions.
Progress towards a more democratic world has been wiped out and we are now back to 1986 levels – according to the latest report from Varieties of Democracy at the University of Gothenburg, V-dem.
How did we get here? When exactly did the steps start going in the wrong direction? It is journalists, writers and opinion leaders, who must be aware of when the downward journey begins. Because we are the ones who notice it first. And it is we who must be the most vigilant.
All reliable observers of democracy agree: the first step backwards is when a regime tries to stifle free speech in various ways.
In today’s world, you don’t have to burn books in a public square. You don’t have to wear a uniform and knock hard on someone’s door looking for dissidents. In today’s world, the internet or individual websites are shut down, journalists are criticised and called foreign agents. Politicians hang journalists out to dry and let the cyberbullies do their job by tiring out individual journalists with constant attacks. And in many parts of the world, dissenting journalists are beaten, imprisoned and killed.
It’s easy to think that we should just give up.
But nothing could be more wrong.
We need to get together, get together – like we are here today.
And we need to mobilise:
Express courage and point to the Ukrainian journalists who – of course – love their country and want it to be defended, yet investigate and expose how hired soldiers in the Ukrainian army rape civilians or commit other war crimes.
Express stubbornness and point to Hidden Stories, which continues to publish journalism that someone has tried to silence by imprisoning or even killing the person who first worked on it.
Express hope and decide that it is possible to believe in a world that looks different. Where democracy grows again and freedom of the press and freedom of opinion is favoured.
Consider the small steps in the right direction, which happen after all, as daily victories. Lift them up, rejoice in them. To keep going.
For freedom of the press.
And thank you.”