On 11 July 2019, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edgars Rinkēvičs, took part in the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, co-hosted by Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, and Chrystia Freeland, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada. The conference aims at promoting international coordination and action to advance media freedom and the safety of journalists both through discussions at the highest political level and practical long-term measures at the expert level.
Edgars Rinkēvičs joined representatives from the media industry, academia and civil society in an interactive session titled Navigating Disinformation and chaired by the Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
In the discussion, the Latvian Foreign Minister underlined the need for engaging with civil society in the fight against disinformation. “Tackling disinformation for us means to work on multiple action points: first, raising public awareness of disinformation; second, strengthening independent media; third, promoting media literacy and critical thinking; and fourth, government institutions need to learn how to communicate better with citizens,” stressed Edgars Rinkēvičs.
The Minister drew the audience’s attention to Latvia having been well prepared for the Saeima (the Latvian Parliament) and European Parliament elections: an efficient interagency coordination mechanism and direct communication channels had been established with the main social media platforms worldwide.
“It is important for the government to work closely with the media organizations and the civil society. We discussed the risks to our elections and ways of dealing with those risks. Latvia’s civil society is an active and innovative actor in tackling disinformation. For example, recently, a group of professional journalists in Latvia launched a new independent fact-checker called Re:Check. It works closely with the media community to help citizens to spot disinformation and to find facts. Latvia hosts the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence, which applies new approaches and tools to raise the quality of journalism and media literacy in the Baltic States and in the European Union’s Eastern neighbourhood,” the Minister said.
Edgars Rinkēvičs stated his conviction that no single nation could tackle disinformation alone. Latvia has been among the countries pushing for a coherent and decisive European Union’s approach to disinformation. As the result, the East StratCom Task Force has been established that raises awareness of disinformation and the related risks internationally. In addition, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation has set a new standard to prevent disinformation.
“We need to rethink the role of tech companies and social platforms in our societies. The various platforms are, increasingly, the place where public debate lives today. This place needs to be safe, but also free and transparent. The EU has set an important precedent by adopting the self-regulatory Code of Practice against disinformation. On the positive side, it is the first time online platforms and the advertising industry have undertaken serious commitments to tackle the problem. We may soon need to consider next regulatory steps to ensure transparency, responsibility and oversight. Whatever these next steps are, they must empower the users, not censor them. Abuse of users’ data – as it happened in the Cambridge Analytica case – should not be allowed to happen again. We also need safeguards against unjustified restrictions on free speech. Finally, disinformation is not a technological issue. It is a social and political challenge. It starts with collective will and individual freedom to seek truth and face facts. An open society committed to liberty, equality and human dignity will overcome these challenges and grow stronger. If a society fails to live up to these principles, then technological solutions or regulatory steps alone will not help,” the Minister stated in conclusion.
At the conference, alongside other heads of delegations, Edgars Rinkēvičs signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom whereby countries commit themselves to cooperation and reinforcing international initiatives to champion media freedom and safety of journalists.
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