July 18, 2017

OSCE Media Freedom Representative is needed more than ever – RSF welcomes end of vacancy

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the appointment of a new Representative on Freedom of the Media by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The organization's Ministerial Council confirmed today last week’s agreement on French politician Harlem Désir.

Désir’s appointment ends a long standoff among the OSCE’s 57 member states. The position had been vacant since Bosnian Dunja Mijatovic’s mandate ended last March, after being exceptionally extended to allow more time to find a candidate acceptable to all members of the consensus-based OSCE.

“It was high time that the OSCE ends this stalemate and agrees on a new Representative on Freedom of the Media. Leaving this position vacant permanently would have sent a disastrous message to the adversaries of press freedom, who are on the advance even in the heart of the OSCE region”, said RSF Germany’s executive director Christian Mihr.

“The OSCE must fulfill its mandate to promote democracy and urgently take action in view of the growing violations of press freedom in countries such as Russia, Turkey, Poland and Hungary”, added Sophie Busson, RSF head of advocacy.

An early warning system for the protection of journalists and media pluralism

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media is mandated to observe media developments as part of an early warning system and to help the member states abide by their commitments to freedom of expression and free media. This includes, inter alia, efforts to ensure the safety of journalists, assist with the development of media pluralism, promote decriminalization of defamation, promote Internet freedom and provide expert opinions on media regulation and legislation.

Harlem Désir is the fourth holder of this office. Born in 1959, the French Socialist politician served as State Secretary for European Affairs from 2014 until a few weeks ago. Between 1984 and 1992 he headed the French anti-racism watchdog SOS Racisme. Later positions included stints as member of the European Parliament and as Secretary General of the Socialist Party.

Désir’s predecessors as OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media were German Freimut Duve (1998-2004) who was instrumental in creating the office, Hungarian Miklós Haraszti (2004-2010) and Bosnian Dunja Mijatovic (2010-March 2017).

Both the German OSCE presidency in 2016 and the Austrian one this year had made intense efforts to find a candidate acceptable to all OSCE members. A compromise was finally found last week when the member states’ foreign ministers agreed on several OSCE top positions, including the organization’s incoming Secretary General.