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Speech by Mogens Jensen at Global Media Freedom Conference

Speech by Minister of Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr Mogens Jensen, at conference in Copenhagen on media freedom and the media's role in civic discourse. More than 80 editors and journalists from around the world attended the conference on 30 April 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, thanks for taking your time to join this conference. The importance of free media is of universal importance. Because media everywhere have the immense capacity to strengthen democratic institutions, ensure accountability, and promote transparency. Above all, media have the ability to hold the powerful in society against the microscope of public scrutiny.

But as an essential pre-condition for all of this, media must be independent and free. Journalists must be protected to carry out their work without fear of retribution, attack, or worse. In too many countries state uses media laws in order to keep media from criticizing those in power. This is not a new thing. What is a new - and deeply concerning tendency - is the fact that journalists are being targeted now, not only by oppressive regimes, but also from militia groups such as ISIS. As we talked about yesterday, never since the end of the Second World War has the World been witnessing such a distressing number of armed conflicts. Sadly, this also reflects on the number of journalists killed. Last year 61 journalists were killed and this year the death toll has already reached 22. And the numbers are increasing day by day. In 2012, the UN adopted the "UN Plan of Action on safety for journalists and the issue of impunity". This was an important step to address journalists' safety globally. However, protection of journalists and free media is an ongoing effort that can’t be solved by top down initiatives. We need to continuously put the issue on the agenda – like we do today. But we also have to walk the talk with concrete initiatives. Let me come back to that. 

We can all agree that freedom of speech, the rights of journalists and a free press are important issues. We don’t need another conference to celebrate that. What we need is to find ways of taking these beautiful intentions into practice is countries where media is under threat. Why? Because free and independent media is a precondition for the development of societies, for holding authorities responsible and to create social and political cohesion. This is the case in fragile states and developing countries and this is the case in Denmark. A nation, where no one can criticize or challenge status quo, does not move on – history is full of examples; so no cases needed here.

One of the privileges of being Minister of Trade and Development is to receive guests from many different nations all over the world. Some foreign colleagues ask me: “How come that such a small country like Denmark with almost no natural resources has become such a prosperous society?” Many factors have contributed. An important factor has been a history of at least 150 years with a tradition for press freedom, critical dialogue and public discussions. As citizens, our expectations of what media should be are often set extremely high, particularly when compared to the standards to which we hold other enterprises. Society demands that media safeguard our interests, speak out on our behalf, and act as a warning when our rights are challenged or our common values begin to slide away from the ideal. As such, media holds a special place in the democratic fabric, unlike any other element of our system.  Critical questions and requests for accountability from the public are on a daily basis forcing public institutions to open up to the citizens and put them in focus. A sparkling public debate is also a precondition for social and political coherence. This is the case in fragile states and developing countries, but certainly also in Denmark. This is why media must be given every chance to succeed, every possibility of flourishing under those ideal conditions.

Free and independent media can only exist, if we safeguard the freedom of the media. This requires hard work on a daily basis. In many fragile states and developing countries large parts of the population is completely excluded from the public debate. It is our duty to help them get a voice in the debate about their societies and about the frames of their lives. The work for free and independent media is a part of Denmark’s long lasting commitment for supporting human rights and develop civil society. During my meetings with government representatives in development cooperation, the human rights issue always ranks high on the agenda – media freedom is integrated part of this.

Free and independent media is not a given. We have to protect them continuously. It is my hope that this conference will provide a forum for a free and inspiring debate, keeping in mind that many questions concerning the media are exactly the same no matter if we are in Denmark or in The Central African Republic: How can we engage people in the public debate? How should the immense technological changes being dealt with? How can media maintain a high ethical standard in times of bad media economy?

Thank you very much.