Breaking down the Walls: Artists and Journalists Send a Strong Warning of the Dangers of Complacency

By Tanya Sakzewski

Audiences were warned by artists and journalists not to stay silent when freedoms are under threat and encouraged to be proactive in tackling polarization and divisions in society at a public event in Warsaw, Poland, on 11 May.

The warnings came during the event, ‘Breaking Down Walls: Artists, freedom and social cohesion’ organized by the Faculty of Journalism, Information and Book Studies at the University of Warsaw, in collaboration with the Media Diversity Institute Global and with the support of the Museum of Modern Art.

Hanna Azemsha, a TV journalist and reporter from Belarus, who is working in Poland for Belsat TV, made a powerful warning about being complacent. She said change in her country didn’t happen overnight and people didn’t take it seriously at first. As a result, freedoms have been lost and many of her fellow journalists as well as opposition figures and activists are in jail. Reporters Without Borders highlighted in its 2022 Round-up that Belarus is one of the world’s top jailers of journalists with more than 30 behind bars.

Azemsha encouraged audience members to “take action every time you see freedom of expression being threatened. Don’t close your eyes when you see something wrong.”

It was a message repeated by other speakers at the event, part of the MEDIAdelcom project, exploring the role of the creative and media sectors in preserving freedom and promoting deliberation. 

Agata Szczęśniak, a journalist, sociologist, columnist and activist, who works for a fact-checking and investigative journalism outlet in Poland, said people need to fight any actions that lead towards authoritarianism. She said presenting the facts and informing people about issues is not enough.

“There is a presumption that when facts are presented to people they become enlightened. It is not true.” Szczęśniak added that people read and absorb facts in the framework of their own culture and beliefs, but she still believes the media plays an important role in presenting the facts and making them available to the public. She urged people to support the media, especially independent media, to ensure its survival and ability to present responsible reporting.

Speakers agreed common ground was needed for deliberation to succeed and to tackle the problem of polarization, especially in Polish society.

Professor Andrzej Krakowski, a film director, producer, teacher, writer and cartoonist who lives in the US, spoke about his experience being expelled from Poland during anti-Semitic purges in 1968. He called for people to listen to each other and enter into dialogue to exchange ideas. “We can’t keep putting bandaids on wounds when we don’t understand where the wounds come from.”  Krakowski said there is an overload of information and media options, and people don’t know how to communicate.

Shady Lady, a Polish drag queen, artist and activist whose performances touch on the issues of the LGBTQ+ community, agreed it was important to listen and not just consume information. “For us in the LGBTQ+ community, we are open to discussion and to communicate and describe issues, but sometimes the other side doesn’t want to listen.” Shady Lady added that there was still a lack of respect for the LGBTQ+ community in the country.

In Poland, authorities in one-third of the country have adopted anti-LGBT resolutions since 2019, declaring themselves free of “LGBT ideology” which includes so-called LGBT “free-zones”.  Some towns have since had their “zones” annulled by courts.

Shady Lady said polarization is the biggest issue facing society and the arts provide an avenue for connecting people. 

Michał Janicki, a painter, creative art director, and head of painters and animators in BreakThru Films in Poland, agreed art has a role to play in helping solve problems. He said artists can provide a space for people to meet and exchange ideas. “I think art can do a lot, we just need to be brave. Deliberation is possible if only we are willing to meet in the same room.”

Krakowski also appealed to the audience to listen to each other and be more proactive in solving problems. “The most effective way is to do. Let’s not push for change, let’s make change.” 

Dr. William Tayeebwa, Senior Lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University in Uganda, sent a video message saying freedom of expression was also under pressure in many African nations, but artists have been speaking out on issues including governance, human rights and freedom of expression. He urged artists in Europe to do the same. ”With the rise of right-wing politics in Europe, the work of artists and cultural figures is even more important to spread the message of love and empathy towards the other.”

The event also featured art by Warsaw University students including a digital photographic display, Freedom! Where are you? and a dance performance interpreting freedom.

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Master students in Sweden research deliberative mini-publics

As part of the Environment and Decision-Making master’s programme, Geranne Vegter and Tomas Falk are researching  deliberative mini-publics. This endeavour is supervised by Professor Stephan Barthel, conducted at the University of Gävle.

The aim of this research is to understand the function and impact of mini-publics in society. Mini-publics, such as citizen’s assemblies and participatory budgeting, have the potential to contribute to a more transparent and democratic governance system, and in turn, help reduce society’s polarisation. The research is motivated by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 16, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Unlike many previous studies that have focused on case studies of specific mini-public projects, this research takes a broader view by examining as many mini-public projects across different topics and continents as possible. To achieve this, the researchers have launched a survey to gather data on mini-publics from a diverse range of perspectives. This survey is meant for people who have been part of a mini-public, who have organised one, who have moderated or facilitated one, who have been involved in any way with a mini-public. The conductors of the research invite you to participate in this survey to help us better understand the function and impact of mini-publics. The survey can be accessed here.

The researchers look forward to sharing their findings.

Photo from Högskolan i Gävle.

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New book on digital media governance

The book Digital Media Governance and Supranational Courts untangles the digital media jurisprudence of supranational courts in Europe with a focus on the CJEU and the ECtHR. It argues that in the face of regulatory tension and uncertainty, courts can have a strong bearing on the applicable rules and standards of digital media.

Chapters written by expert contributors explore the interpretative steps taken by the CJEU and the ECtHR to solve arising legal issues, shedding light on their interpretation and refinement of the applied rules.

The book provides fresh insights into the effects of European adjudication on the content and scope of the rules enforced and examines the ways in which the two European courts address the specificities of digitalization and digital media in their rulings. It also addresses the process of defining the constitutional boundaries of digital media and the exercise of rights and freedoms therein, focusing on digital media and the distinct challenges posed by digitalization and digital communication.

One editor of the book – Evangelia Psychogiopoulou – is in operation at the Mediadelcom project. The other editor of the book is Susana de la Sierra. Cf. the page of the publisher, Edward Elgar Publishing.

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