Summary of the one day conference about freedom of the press in a digital world

This interesting day started with a short summary about the KDW project from Professor Olof Sundin; thereafter the three different themes of the day followed with discussions moderated by Professor Erik J. Olsson.

The first theme dealt with Control of information – printed or digital media. Historian and National librarian Lars Ilshammar gave a talk called ”The Elephant in the Room” – here referring to four elephants: control of information, protectionism, economism and consumism. Whether society shall be more open or closed boils down to human decisions. This talk was followed by KDW researcher Linnéa Lindskölds’ ”Freedom of the press without the letterpress”. The importance of critical thinking was emphasized as well as the fact that we by using (one) search engine(s) create our own ”digital identity” and in relation to the latter the ”right to be forgotten” was discussed.

The second theme – Democracy – started with a talk by the previous special government investigator Anette Novak: ”The futures’ most important asset” – dealing with deconsolidating democracy, polarization and the ”resistance of facts”; concluding that the population need a new ”enlightenment” in the digital era. The thought-provoking title of the next talk, by science reporter Lisa Kirsebom, was ”You have a doctoral degree but I have googled and you are wrong”. This talk focused on post-truth – asking if facts are becoming irrelevant – but also about the more widespread distrust in authorities. A remedy was suggested; consisting in asking questions along the lines of what might get persons to change their beliefs – in schools, social media as well as ”old media”. Kirsebom was thereafter followed by philosopher Ylva von Gerber. The talk ”Asocial media” started by problematizing what happens when global technics (Internet) meet local morals (the physical reality and local norms). Here the terms ”spreading coefficient” and ”friction” were central. Arguments for why the look upon man plays a central role for both the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression were given and how these are tightly connected to the enlightenment and the view upon human capacities. These two freedoms are in turn tied to democracy – or rather the western liberal democracy and that the laws that regulate them, with the new media, somehow get behind.

The third and last theme of the day – Ethics of the press – started off with author and journalist Andreas Ekström presenting: ”The Editor – one or zero?”. Ekström suggested, in order to make it clearer when reading news on the web whether we are dealing with opinions or facts, that we first should remodel the printed newspapers in Sweden making it apparent what is news and what is views. Old media (journalists) will have to become more pedagogical in order to explain what is what and make it easier for the readers to discriminate between fact and fiction. The last talk of the day was given by the Swedish Pressombudsman Ola Sigvardsson: ”If There is a Will…”. The starting point for the ”Pressombudsman” is to avoid governmental rules and regulations for the media and thereby resist restraints in the freedom of the press or the freedom of expression acts – instead the media agreed at the beginning of the last century to follow their own rules of conduct – a sort of self-regulation or -sanitation. In the digital world the hope consists in new media voluntarily acceding to a code of conduct on the web.