“What happens in European borders doesn’t just affect Europe. It’s used as justification for even more extreme forms of abuse around the rest of the world.”
Journalists, artists and publicists in Europe are increasingly confronted with censorship and self-censorship. Freedom of expression, as well as journalistic freedom is not automatic anymore. While the internet makes borders increasingly irrelevant, freedom of expression, online and offline, become even more relevant. In this panel discussion, Swedish artist Lars Vilks and Dutch author Naema Tahir share their personal experiences with freedom of expression in Europe. Professor Alastair Mullis,UK Defamation Law expert, Julian Assange from WikiLeaks and Birgitta Jonsdottir speak on the legal and political questions surrounding freedom of expression. The event was hosted by MEPs Marietje Schaake and Alexander Lambsdorff.
The first part of the panel covers personal experiences with freedom of expression in Europe with statements by Lars Vilks, Naema Tahir, and Flemming Rose. Lars Vilk reports on the original intention of his Mohammed-cartoons that evoked world-wide protests among Muslims, and how he dealt with the subsequent threats to his life. Naema Tahir speaks about alternative strategies to introduce Western readings to Muslim immigrants and her personal findings on self-censorship as a balance between artistic value and political tool. In a video-statement, Flemming Rose reflects on whether citizens of a democracy should have the right “not to be offended”, and on the problems of context-loss in a globalized information society.
The second part addresses legal and political questions surrounding freedom of expression, featuring Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Julian Assange, and Alastair Mullis. Birgitta Jónsdóttir explains the idea behind the the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative as well as the collective and legal process that enabled its adoption by the parliament. Julian Assange describes how abandoned alliances that guaranteed the protection of values from the European enlightenment are disappearing ever since the end of the cold war. He gives some concrete examples of British libel law cases that he judges as progressive realization of Orwellian horrors as depicted in 1984 and illuminates how secret state censorship blacklists, politically framed as mechanisms to combat child pornography, are functionalized to gag dissident voices. Alastair Mullis informs about the situation of libel law and “libel tourism” in the UK, comments on the debates around a reform of the English defamation law, and weighs up the right of freedom of speech against interests like reputation and privacy.