Freedom of Expression is incontestably a core requirement for the promotion of democratic spaces. Ensuring an open space for the multiple voices of politicians, press, minorities or citizens in general is a permanent challenge for entities tasked with overseeing electoral processes. The recognized need to establish and enforce regulations on political campaigning is inevitably accompanied by the concern that, depending on their application, such regulations may be used to obstruct or even impede the natural flow of ideas.
This was the main themes for the side-event organized on 12 June. The expert panel introduced by the Norwegian Ambassador Mr. Steffen Kongstad and included Frank LaRue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as a main speaker. Other panelists were Carmen Aristegui, Journalist and director and host of the first broadcast of MVS-MVS News Radio and "Aristegui" program on CNN in Spanish, Reforma Newspaper columnist and Director of "Aristegui News, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, Executive Director, Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Bangkok Thailand, Alan García, Human Rights Officer, OHCHR Mexico,. The event was moderated by Mauro Porto, Brazilian Professor on Political Science at Tulane University.
Mr. Kongstad pointed to that during elections, most countries become more polarized. Violence against those who use the right to freedom of expression and advocate for independent media occurs more often. Censorship, surveillance and hate speech towards minorities and dissidents are also common in some states. Some states also adopt new laws to restrain free expression, for example by prohibiting access to certain media sources and outlets, and this is not acceptable.
Mr. LaRue underlined that “freedom of expression is the key element that facilitates citizens in political participation.” He continued by underlining the importance of freedom of expression especially in political questions. Furthermore, he addressed the need for surveillance as to when politicians buy television and radio time. “Who is funding what, and where are the commitments? Transparency is a precondition of democracy,” he says.
Mr. Kongstad also stated that “it is important to underline that a democratic election depends on a meaningful political discourse and independent media. To choose a candidate or party we need to have information about all the existing alternatives.” Mr. Kongstad concluded his statement by saying that “I would like to underline the three words that summarize the conclusions and recommendations in the report. To enhance free and fair elections, freedom of expression, and a level playing field in electoral processes, states should promote plurality, ensure transparency and advance accountability. Today our challenge is to ensure that all voices have a space in the public debate, and how to avoid that powerful groups in society take unfair advantage of their political or economic powers to exclude dissident voices.”