Democracies Should “Lead by Example” on Free Expression – OSCE Media Rep
The OSCE’s outgoing Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, indicated that the European Union and United States are enabling a crackdown on free expression in Eurasia by overemphasizing security concerns at the expense of individual liberties.
Delivering the Annual Harriman Lecture at Columbia University on February 23, Mijatovic noted that an “atmosphere of optimism” that existed in 2010, when she assumed her media watchdog responsibilities, has given way to a “climate of fear, non-tolerance and anxieties” today across the 57 participating nations in the OSCE.
In just the past few year, terrorism episodes – including the Charlie Hebdo attack, along with mass killings in Paris and San Bernadino, California – have spurred Western governments to embrace tighter state security measures that have seen a push to expand data collection and erode privacy protections.
Meanwhile, following the 2014 Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine, authoritarian-minded states in Eurasia, led by Russia, have pursued a political agenda that is at odds with some of the OSCE’s core values, in particular freedom of expression. As a result, media freedom, along with many other basic rights, has experienced a rapid and wide-ranging decline in many Eurasian states.
Mijatovic tacitly suggested the former trend feeds the latter: Eurasian leaders have been quick to exploit the West’s growing preoccupation with security to help justify their own crackdowns. National security concerns in many Eurasian states are often used as “just cover” to stifle dissent, Mijatovic said.
Changing current patterns will require OSCE members to see state security and individual rights as interlinked, and not as “contradicting values.”
Democracies “should lead by example,” Mijatovic said. “There is no security without the free flow of information.”
Mijatovic’s second three-year mandate ends in March. No replacement has been named as yet. Tacitly acknowledging the widening divide within the OSCE, pitting Western democracies against Eurasian states, she noted during her lecture that if the office of the Representative for Free Media did not already exist, it would “be impossible to set up such a watchdog now.” Monitoring components of the OSCE, especially the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which has responsibility for assessing the fairness of elections, have long drawn criticism from Russia and other Eurasian states.
“The mandate and the institution need to be protected because we will need this in the future,” Mijatovic said, referring to the office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media.