WASHINGTON — Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative for Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir was on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on July 25, speaking on the fragile state of media freedom within the OSCE region at an event organized by the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
Over 400 journalists were killed in OSCE countries in the last 25 years, said Désir. Among them, he mentioned Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian editor of Agos weekly, along with Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “In the past seven months 121 journalists were arrested in OSCE countries, the majority in Turkey,” Désir continued.
Armenia’s two neighbors, Turkey and Azerbaijan, were highlighted a lot at the hearing. Chairman of the Helsinki Commission Alcee Hastings’s inquiry was about the situation in Azerbaijan. It has become especially worrisome, considering that the Committee to Protect Journalists placed Azerbaijan and Turkey among the most alarming countries in terms of constrictions on the freedom of media. Désir agreed that the situation is troubling. He considers traveling to Azerbaijan soon.
The OSCE representative also spoke of new media technologies that allow better manipulation of public opinion and more sophisticated misinformation and propaganda campaigns.
According to Désir, the countermeasures against this kind of new developments should be carefully balanced and should not lead to additional constraints on media freedom but rather include more professional fact checking options and exposure of fake news. “It is more important to me to ensure the identification and attribution of the origins of the false information and to debunk the manipulation in the eyes of the public than to try to preemptively block any kind of false news from circulating in the Internet,” OSCE’s media freedom representative stated.