UNESCO event initiates a book exploring 250 years history of Freedom of Information law

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Peter Forsskål’s WPFD-2016 seminar hosted by the National Archives of Finland
© UNESCO
01 September 2017

The Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research has published a book “The Legacy of Peter Forsskål. 250 Years of Freedom of Expression”, which analyses Forsskål’s famous essay “Thoughts on Civil Liberty” and the circumstances under which the very first legislation on freedom of information  - now known as the right to access information - was enacted in Sweden in 1766.

The 2016 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) was organized in Helsinki by UNESCO under the general theme of “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms: This is Your Right!”. The publication is based on discussions held during this UNESCO commemoration, in particular on reports and presentations made during the seminar dedicated to discuss Peter Forsskål’s legacy and its global impact on contemporary press freedom and right to access information legislation.

An immediate outcome of the overall discussion at the WPFD-2016 was reflected in the Finlandia Declaration reaffirming the importance of the right to access information as essential for a free, independent, pluralistic media and called Member States to create a legal, policy and institutional environment, which ensures that people can receive public information.

The new book provides a continuation for the ideas discussed during the WPFD-2016 and outlined in the Finlandia Declaration. It is co-edited by Ulla Carlsson, Professor and UNESCO Chair in Freedom of Expression, Media Development and Global Policy at the University of Gothenburg and Dr. David Goldberg, Founder and Director of Project Forsskål.

Thoughts on Civil Liberty, this little-known jewel of Enlightenment literature, states almost all the rights that 30 years later were to be found in the French Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen,” says David Goldberg in his introductory article where the life as well as Forsskål’s pamphlet are presented. The first section also presents contributions from a number of researchers and writers from both Sweden and Finland, where they present their reflections on and insights into the legacy of Peter Forsskål’s ideas.

Frank La Rue, UNESCO’s Assistant Director‐General of Communication and Information sector in the second section provides us with a global overview in the field of freedom of expression and concludes that the call of Peter Forsskål is still alive and more necessary now than ever. Helena Jäderblom, Judge and Section President of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, reflects on the current state of public access to information in Europe.

Finally, Oluf Jørgensen from the Danish school of Media and Journalism provides an overview of the legislation on access to information in the Nordic countries – Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland – as well as European and international rules.

“Anniversaries like these can be used as a starting point for debate. It’s important to discuss our history and where we stand today in terms of freedom of expression, the right to information and freedom of the press, and that’s what we want to do in this book”, concludes Ulla Carlsson while presenting the book to the readers.