It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki and to this award ceremony.
Today, we are here to celebrate the human right to freedom of expression, including press freedom, which lies at the heart of democratic societies.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This has been clearly and repeatedly stated, first in 1948 in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and after that in other international and regional human rights conventions. These are agreements which most countries have signed and ratified. Despite this we are today witnessing a worrying decline in global press freedoms. Every year hundreds of journalists are threatened, imprisoned or killed. Our thoughts are with them.
Of course freedom of expression, like all freedoms, goes hand in hand with responsibility. It goes hand in hand with honesty and truth. Freedom of speech should not be abused nor hate speech tolerated.
Freedom of expression and press freedom are part and parcel of implementing the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda. Without these freedoms the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, access to justice, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels will not be possible. To help meet these goals Finland will focus on the rights of women and the most vulnerable population groups. Too often they remain unheard, despite the opportunities provided by new technologies. We will also stress the link between high-quality education and freedom of expression, as education promotes media literacy and offers capabilities for civic participation.
* * *
It is a special privilege to host this event in Finland since we are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Press Act, passed by the Swedish parliament, covering modern-day Finland and Sweden. Hosting this event is also an important pillar for Finland’s 100th independence anniversary next year. “Access to Information and fundamental freedoms – your right” – this year’s theme – should be a central tenet of all democracies as it is ours.
I am extremely proud that the Finnish media has for several years been rated no 1 in press freedom rankings. This is, in our understanding, thanks to high-level of access to official records, the importance of source protection and an effort to provide fast internet connections to all. It is also important to continue safeguarding good operating conditions for media. The better the public access to information, the better the climate for respecting fundamental freedoms and vice versa.
A key priority must be the protection of journalists. We want to see all journalists, both online and offline, have the possibility to work without a risk of being persecuted and without having to be afraid of their and their family’s safety.
The annual World Press Freedom Prize “honors a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defense and, or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger”.
The Prize this year is awarded to Ms. Khadija Ismayilova, freelance journalist and contributor to the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe. I deeply regret that Ms. Ismayilova is not with us, but imprisoned. Through her mother and sister, representing her here today, I therefore convey my most sincere greetings.
I sincerely hope that our event here in Helsinki will be a turning point. I hope that it will bring about a more positive global development for our right to freedom of expression and press freedom.