October 31, 2016 | Monday

Without freedom of expression, a democratic society cannot exist

By Dinka Živalj, Spokesperson/Communication Adviser at EU Office in Kosovo/ EU Special Representative

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the foundation of a modern democratic society. Although protected by many international agreements and conventions, modern societies must not take this freedom for granted, and continue to work each day to ensure citizens have the right to freely express themselves.

For the European Union, freedom of expression is a fundamental right, particularly ensuring that those aspiring to join the European family uphold this right for all of their citizens. Upholding freedom of expression implies a commitment to democracy, good governance and political accountability. Accordingly, no country can join the EU without guaranteeing freedom of expression as a basic human right (identified in Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty), and the EU is committed to supporting candidates and potential candidates in the implementation of regulations and standards in line with EU policy in this area before they become EU members.

Since 2009, the European Union Office in Kosovo/European Union Special Representative has implemented a number of projects to increase the quality of freedom of expression and to promote independent media as a pillar for the development of a democratic society in Kosovo.

Some of those projects include:

Moreover, to assess the challenges faced by the media in the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey, the European Commission organised a series of Speak Up! Conferences in Brussels in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The conferences bring together journalists, media analysts, decision-makers from the enlargement countries, authorities and experts from international, regional and national organisations committed to promoting freedom of expression to discuss achievements and persisting challenges. They also result in follow-on projects in participating countries.

How prevalent is freedom of expression in Kosovo’s society today? Kosovo, along with others from Western Balkans on the European path, first must adapt legislative reforms, building the capacity of institutions to sustain a rule of law contributing to freedom of expression. Any interference in this legal system is unacceptable; economic challenges for media outlets including disputes of ownership and lack of competition represents a challenge; violence against the press, whether in the form of harassment or threats, is unacceptable.

Media outlets, operating free of political interference, are a starting point for ensuring citizens have access to information, and a variety of actors are able to speak their mind on a diverse set of topics. Specifically, during the Stabilisation and Association Process Dialogue on Justice, Freedom and Security that took place in Brussels last year, the EU encouraged representatives of the Government of Kosovo to establish the Independent Media Commission based on fair and transparent procedures, as well as to insure the long-term financial sustainability of the Radio Television of Kosovo in order to maintain high professional standards and ensure its independence. For this to happen, citizens must also understand their right to freely express themselves and have access to information, independent of political bias. To support this, the European Union has developed a guide to EU support to media freedom and media integrity in the Enlargement Region, 2014-2020, to support civil society and institutions to improve awareness of citizen’s rights.

There is no doubt that freedom of expression applies not only to the expression and dissemination of data and ideas with positive impact, but it also refers to the disclosure of information that could have a negative public response. This is an important point to understand; freedom of expression encompasses all types of expression. Be it media, art or religious perspectives, which everyone living within a society may not agree with or hold the same perspective. Respecting, and allowing those different perspectives, is a core part of a democratic society, and something that must be upheld by legal institutions.

The EU and its partners in Kosovo continue to be committed to promoting freedom of expression and freedom of the media, to promote the rights and responsibilities of journalists and develop professionalism, responsibility, and respect for ethics among media community in Kosovo.