Statement minister Blok on Media Freedom Conference
Let me first of all thank the UK and Canada for hosting this conference on the evermore important topic of media freedom.
‘Freedom of the press has its disadvantages,’ François Mitterrand once said. ‘But fewer than the absence of freedom.’
A free press is essential for a functioning democracy and a free society. Journalists show us our visions and our divisions. This makes good journalism part of good governance. Where there is debate, democracy flourishes. Where views clash, the truth emerges. In all this, journalists play a central role.
Today, however, we are seeing journalists threatened, imprisoned or even murdered. For their words. For their work. For their contribution to society.
In a world of increasing political and social division, a free and vibrant press is clearly and absolutely essential. Without it, we wouldn’t know what is going on in Yemen, in Syria or in Libya.
We wouldn’t learn about corruption and misuse of public funds. We wouldn’t be able to make informed choices in democratic elections. To establish the facts. And the facts do matter.
I am worried about countries where press freedom is almost absent, like Eritrea and Turkmenistan. Where the internet is completely shut down during political unrest, like in Sudan. I am worried about journalists in prison. Last year, again, a sad record was reached on the number of journalists jailed worldwide. In Africa. In Asia. In the Middle East.
But I am also worried about developments closer to home, in and around Europe. About the shrinking space for freedom of expression and the increasing number of threats. It is clear that journalists need our protection.
The Netherlands has a long tradition of media freedom. Freedom of expression is a priority for us. This doesn’t mean everything is perfect in our country. Regrettably, journalists in the Netherlands also face threats, especially from organised crime.
The Netherlands continues to protect and promote freedom of expression, online and offline, at home and around the world.
At home, our Minister of Justice has affirmed the agreement of the Steering Group on Aggression and violence against journalists.
Worldwide, the Netherlands supported 128 projects in different parts of the world, spending a total of 27 million euros. One of our focal points is the safety of journalists. Many are killed every year, and in the great majority of cases the perpetrator goes unpunished. This climate of impunity perpetuates the cycle of violence against journalists.
We work to promote prevention, protection and prosecution. In terms of prevention, our efforts focus on fostering a culture in which freedom of expression is seen as self-evident.
It is therefore my honour to announce that next year, as the United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary, the Netherlands will join UNESCO in organising the conference for World Press Freedom Day. We are grateful for the opportunity to make this contribution. And we hope to all see you there.