"Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region" - December 13, 2007
Earlier this year, on August 2, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on "freedom of the media in the OSCE region." At that time, we heard from a distinguished and impressive panel of nongovernmental representatives including both journalists and representatives of organizations that monitor media freedom. At that time, we had also invited Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, to participate in that hearing.
Although he was unable to join us at that time, he is here with us today and we very much appreciate that he has traveled a long distance for the purpose of testifying before this Commission and sharing his insights with us and drawing on his work not only at the OSCE, but on his personal experience as writer and editor.
Mr. Haraszti’s biography has been made available on the table outside this hearing room and I am not going to read it aloud now. However, I would like to note that he is a man of tremendous personal integrity and the OSCE is fortunate to have someone with his capabilities serving the institution.
This is especially so because his mandate relates to one of the most fundamental human rights – the right to freedom of the media – and a right that is considered a corner stone for every democracy.
And the fact is, there is an enormous amount for us to discuss today, and I’d like to just touch on a few of the issues that have been of particular concern to the Commission.
First, I am greatly concerned about the instances of violence and even murder perpetrated against journalists in connection with their professional responsibilities. The assassination of Anna Politkovskaya is perhaps the best-known – but not the only – case of this kind.
Second, I am deeply troubled by the progressive deterioration of freedom of the media in Azerbaijan. At present, nine journalists are in jail there – more than in any other OSCE country – and there has been a series of physical attacks and fines on journalists. Over 20 journalists from Azerbaijan have openly sought political asylum abroad to protest the worsening conditions in the country. The recent arrest and conviction of Mr. Ilgar Nasibov, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Azeri service, is not only a breach of Azerbaijan’s commitment to freedom of the press, but undermines confidence in the judicial system of this OSCE participating State.
With respect to imprisoned journalists, it has been drawn to my attention that the Committee to Protect Journalists – one of the organizations that testified at our August hearing – has just issued a list of journalists imprisoned around the world. My staff has made an excerpt of that document, listing those who are held by OSCE participating States, and without objection this will be included in the record.
Third, I am deeply interested in the challenge that OSCE countries face as they seek to combat anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of intolerance – while at the same time protecting freedom of the media and freedom of speech. In fact, in November, I chaired a briefing on combating hate crimes and discrimination, and this issue was discussed there as well.
In many ways, the controversy and violence which erupted in 2005 after the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed forced this debate to center stage. And I have to say that I was interested to see the large number of free speech advocates that suddenly seemed to emerge in Europe in the face of so many calls to censor these cartoons. The eruption of a second "cartoon controversy" earlier this year in Sweden following the publication of another depiction of Mohammed there suggests that we may be grappling with these issues for some time to come.
In this regard, I want to express my concern for those instances where hate speech or anti-extremism laws are used to punish disfavored or merely controversial speech. I believe it is especially incumbent on those of us who are truly concerned with manifestations of intolerance to speak out when we see “hate speech” laws abused for political purposes.
Finally, I want to commend you for your support for a federal shield law in the United States. When it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of the media, I believe the United States has a record of which we can truly be proud. But every democracy – even a well-established democracy – has room for improvement and I believe the United States would benefit from having a shield law. For this reason, I joined 398 of my colleagues in the House in voting for such a bill. A companion bill has been voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and I hope we will see this legislation signed into law.
Mr. Haraszti, I think you have your work cut out for you, and we have a lot to discuss this morning. It is a great privilege to have you with us and I look forward to hearing from you.