Nordic Ministers of Culture declare support for artistic freedom

4 May 2016


“Artistic and creative expressions, as an integral part of the human right to freedom of expressions, is critical both to the development of cultures and to the functioning of democratic societies,” said a declaration by the Nordic Ministers of Culture adopted at a seminar on 2 May 2016 during the World Press Freedom Days in Helsinki.

The seminar organised by UNESCO had keynote speeches by former Finnish President Tarja Halonen and UNESCO Director-General Ms Irina Bokova. Quoting the Freemuse annual statistics on violations on artistic freedom, Irina Bokova said: “The increase in reported restrictions to artistic freedom is alarming.”

Irina Bokova
Irina Bokova. Photo by Danica Bijeljac, UNESCO

It was the first time artistic freedom was discussed and addressed during World Press Freedom Days. A particular focus was on the UNESCO’s Global Report ‘Re-shaping Cultural Policies’ and the chapters on mobility, gender and artistic freedom.

Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov in one of the seminars said, “although the Freemuse report shows an increase of attacks, the problems are still underreported. The problem is much larger,” he said, “but unlike violations of media freedom only few organisations such as Freemuse document and verify violations.”

Tools needed to monitor artistic freedom
The declaration of the Ministers of Culture “welcome the important steps taken by UNESCO, not least through the first Global Report on the implementation of the 2005 Convention, to enhance monitoring in areas such as artistic freedom… and look forward to continued follow up… on the tools needed to monitor artistic freedom as part of our national, regional and UNESCO’s normative systems.”

The ministers’ declaration even raised concern about the “current economic and refugee situation have had on the trust in the Nordic model of a democratic, open and inclusive society.”

The declaration said that, “Attacks on the freedom of (cultural) expression from intolerant individuals and groups, hate speech, racism, and xenophobia among others denote the denial of one of the fundamental prerequisites of democracy; the right of everyone to participate in debate as free and equal individuals.”

Reports should incorporate violations
In the UNESCO panel on artistic freedom, Ole Reitov said that, “Artists’ organisations must get more engaged in defending their colleagues and artistic freedom globally, and that human rights organisations, embassies overseas and the EU in their reports on freedom of expression should not only focus on media freedom but incorporate violations on artistic freedom.”

In 2015, Freemuse analysed 70 country reports and found that hardly a dozen countries had any mentioning of artistic freedom.

“This might look as a poor result, but the fact that artistic freedom is now being addressed at UN level, that politicians declare their support and even new legislations are in place, gives you a little hope; and if Freemuse has played a role in this, we have accomplished one of our original goals to put focus on freedom of artistic freedom on a global scale”, said Ole Reitov.

More than 140 countries have ratified the 2005 UNESCO Convention. The countries as part of their implementation and monitoring of the Convention are supposed to include reports on how they have promoted and protected artistic freedom.

Illustration on top of this page: The Nordic Council of Ministers logo on top af an excerpt of the cover of the council’s report entitled ‘Kulturpolitikkforskning i Norden’

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» Nordic Ministers of Culture:
The Declaration
‘Declaration by the Nordic Ministers of Culture on Promoting Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Artistic Freedom in a Digital Age’

» Freemuse annual statistics report 2015:
Art under threat

Five challenges to artistic freedom

» UNESCO report:
Re-shaping Cultural Policies (PDF)

» Huffington Post – 27 April 2016:
Spotlighting Artistic Freedom With Unesco’s 2005 Convention – Marking World Press Freedom Day
By Salma Zulfiqar, UN Communications Specialist

» YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation – 3 May 2016:
Taiteen vapauden puolustaja: Itsesensuuri iso ongelma Pohjoismaissa
Interview with Freemuse Director Ole Reitov (in Finnish language)

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