The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) has decided to fund a pilot study aimed at strengthening awareness of the link between online hate campaigns against journalists and organised disinformation, writes Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström.

The world would be a very quiet place without free speech. Unfortunately, many voices are under attack today. This concerns not least women journalists. Hate, threats and sexist abuse online have become an effective means of trying to silence their voices around the world.

This is why, on 2 December last year, I invited a group of women journalists and media actors to talk about their experiences on the theme of hate and threats against women journalists. I listened to hair-raising stories from affected journalists and the impact it had on their professional and even their private lives. It became apparent that organised online hate is growing and is linked to disinformation campaigns. It represents a growing threat to freedom of expression and therefore also to democracy.

In many ways, the seminar on December 2 was a demarcation whereby the Government, government agencies, the media and civil society stood up for freedom of expression and called attention to the situation for woman journalists. At the same time, the importance of free, independent and professional journalism was highlighted.

The seminar spawned the idea of creating a centre to support media houses and journalists in countries in the South and East, with a particular focus on women journalists who are subjected to hate/threats and disinformation.

The MFA has now decided to fund this idea. The initiative, initially taking the form of a pilot study, aims to strengthen awareness of the link between online hate campaigns against journalists and organisation disinformation. The Fojo Media Institute has therefore been tasked with creating a platform for dialogue and learning in cooperation with the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. They are to build a network that supports journalists who have been subjected to online hate. The target groups are media houses and journalists in the East and South, with a particular focus on women journalists.

This new initiative complements the Government’s work for journalists’ safety. Sweden has a strong political voice in international bodies and we have actively participated in placing and keeping the issue of journalists’ safety in focus in the UN, UNESCO, the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Sweden, together with other committed countries, is pushing strongly for the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity to be fully implemented.

Sweden also took the initiative for the pioneering resolution in the UN Human Rights Council that established that human rights must be respected both offline and online, and that this not least concerns freedom of expression. The resolution unequivocally condemns all human rights violations and abuse – including gender-based violence – committed against people exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms online and urges all states to ensure accountability in this respect.

Sweden will continue to be a champion for journalists’ safety, both offline and online. We must never forget that democracy is strongest when many voices are heard. Unfortunately, far too many voices are under attack.

Margot Wallström