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English only PDF

Ms Hemineke van Bockxmeer, Head of the Media Division, Dutch Ministry of Education Culture and Science

Welkomstwoord IVIR Conferentie

Dear Participants,

Last week Germany adopted a new anti-terrorist law. Months of debate went before the final decision about the new rules. But now the federal police – and not just the Bundeskriminalamt – can search computers, tape telephone calls and place video security in houses of suspects of terrorist acts. A case to discuss today?

This conference on anti-terrorist legislation in Europe since 2001 and its impact on freedom of expression and information couldn’t come at a better time. It is therefore, with great pleasure that I welcome you to this conference organised by the Council of Europe in co-operation with the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam and hosted by the Dutch Government.

My name is Hermineke van Bockxmeer, and I am head of the media division at the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

When the attacks of the World Trade Centre took place, many people feared for their life and safety.

How could terrorists take down these towers so easily? Would the government be equipped and able to protect us? In the wake of these events, people were more willing to accept limits on their right of free speech, for the sake of their protection.

So, for the last seven years, we have seen many policy and legislative changes related to fighting terrorism.

The survey Speaking of terror by David Banisar, who will give the keynote speech – shows that not just in Germany but all over the world, new laws have been adopted, old laws have been revised, policies and practices have been changed.

And most of these revisions have expended the powers of the government to fight terrorism and other crime.

For the media, these changes have raised new challenges; for example, relating to their ability to collect and disseminate information.

Freedom of expression has been especially challenged by laws which are used to suppress political and controversial speech; which are used to take down television channels, or block websites. And it seems to be accepted that journalistic rights are undermined for the sake of national security.

In its case law on Article 10, the European Court of Human Rights has provided fundamental standards concerning the right to freedom of expression and information in times of crisis. Further guidance was provided by the Council of Europe, in the Declaration on freedom of expression and information in the media in context of the fight against terrorism. But how are these standards implemented in the 47 member states? Has recent anti-terrorism legislation taken account of these standards or has it put undue limits on the rights to freedom of expression and information? What can the media and civil society do?

To answer these questions, we are here together in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is well known as a city of tolerance, where immigrants since the late Middle Ages and early renaissance have come to live and add to the economical and cultural growth of the city.

But it is also a city where 4 years ago Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist and member of a terrorist cell. You can imagine that even to the present day the discussion about freedom of expression and terrorism is high on the agenda here in Amsterdam and in the Netherlands. But there are more stories in Europe, like the German case, London, Madrid.

Therefore, I am very glad that the Council of Europe invited us to discuss here the next two days, the effects of anti-terror measures on freedom of speech and free media in the different countries. I am especially looking forward to the keynote speech of David Banisar, presentations of panel discussions and working groups.

And together, we will try to identify further action needed by member states and the media, to ensure that the standards in the Council of Europe declaration will indeed be implemented in practice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of the Council of Europe and the Dutch government I would like to welcome you to the conference. But not before I have expressed our special thanks to IVIR (Nico van Eijk) for the organisation of the conference. It was short notice but you can’t tell….

And also a very special thanks to all of you who have so generously spent ideas and time on the preparation of this conference.

I wish you an inspiring conference with good results. Welcome!