“Artistic freedom as pillar of freedom of expression and participatory democracy”, proclaims 2017 World Press Freedom Day Declaration

The Jakarta Declaration, adopted by the participants at the UNESCO World Pres Freedom Day Conference, held in Jakarta, Indonesia (1-4 May 2017), calls in an unprecedented way on UNESCO to “promote artistic freedom as a pillar of freedom of expression and as a cornerstone of participatory democracy, and support artistic creation and ensure access to cultural life for all members of society”. Further, it calls on Member States to “ratify and implement the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, thus committing to the creation, distribution and enjoyment of diverse cultural expressions”.

This Declaration comes in the aftermath of three major panel discussions organized by UNESCO in Jakarta on 2 and 3 May, with the financial support of the Government of Denmark, on the topic of artistic freedom (see News).

A key note speech by Asaduzzaman Noor, Minister for Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh, introduced the first debate “Re-shaping cultural policies for the status of the artist and artistic freedom”, moderated by Anupama Sekhar, Director of the Culture Department at the Asia-Europe foundation (ASEF).

“In promoting artistic freedom, we must seek to support creativity and maintain a heterogeneous world of ideas, values and views”, emphasized the Minister in his speech delivered by the Ambassador of Bangladesh to Indonesia, Azmal Kabir. “Together, by ratifying and implementing the 2005 Convention, we can demonstrate our commitment to culture, creativity and innovation, to promoting local cultural and creative industries but also to ensuring respect for principles of the Convention such as freedom of creative expression”.  

This was followed by a video message from Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary-General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, calling upon UNESCO to enhance global monitoring of artistic freedom and encouraging artists and journalists to join force in their efforts to protect fundamental freedoms.

Nguyen Phuong Hoa, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Vietnam, and Ek Buntha, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia, both emphasized the importance of facilitating mobility schemes for artists, “In an era of globalization, freedom of movement is critical. Through regional and international cooperation, we can ensure that artists have broad access to markets and carrier opportunities”, said Mrs Hoa.

The second panel, “Artistic freedom in an age of globalization”, brought together Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam, Korean arts director Seok-Kyu Choi, and Indian film director Rahul Chittela, whose film “Azaad” was screened in advance of the debate. They discussed experiences of threats, censorship and self-censorship, and shared concerns in accessing global markets because of increasing visa restrictions.

Ole Reitov, Executive Director of Freemuse, and moderator of the debate, called upon UNESCO and Parties to the 2005 Convention to strengthen mechanisms to protect artists, including through the modernization of the UNESCO complaints procedure on alleged human rights violations, and to engage in the drafting a UN Plan of action for the Safety of artists (See Freeemuse Press Release).

The debate on 3rd May, “Ensuring artistic freedom: a public policy challenge”, was introduced by former UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights Farida Shaheed.  “Artists share with journalists an extreme vulnerability. We must fight impunity, and sustain their social and political rights”, she emphasized. “Reporting on and monitoring of artistic freedom, both by State actors and civil society organizations, should go hand in hand. More broadly, this should be supported by a renewed global attention to human rights education”. Anupama Sekhar, from ASEF, highlighted the need for national information systems: “With regular cooperation and dialogue platforms, we can bridge the knowledge gap”, she noted.

Hilmar Farid, Director-General at the Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia, reported on the recent adoption on 27 April 2017 by the Indonesian Parliament of a major new law on “The advancement of culture”, inspired by the guiding principles of the 2005 Convention, with a special focus on the protection of artists ‘rights, covering issues of human rights, mobility, remuneration, and copyright. “Artistic freedom is not a luxury", he said. “Faced with the challenge of radicalism, our societies need the voice of vibrant civil societies, who can support critical thinking and inspire social change”.

A lively debate with the audience followed the panel. In concluding, Danielle Cliche, Secretary of the 2005 Convention and chair of the session, reiterated the critical importance of artistic freedom for achieving SDG 16.10 on public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms.

In the margins of these panels, UNESCO also organized a one-day workshop on 3rd May with independent l experts and representatives of international professional networks, such as Freemuse, Index on Censorship, Arterial Network, ASEF, Arts Moves Africa, to discuss the development of training materials on artistic freedom.