Restrictions on media independence and human rights are some of the features of undemocratic regimes. These issues are evident in the situation in Belarus, but also Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine. It is no coincidence that the Václav Havel Library chose “Does Free Media Equal Free Society?” as the topic for this year’s Václav Havel European Dialogues conference.
It was also no coincidence that the conference was held on December 9th, International Human Rights Day. Observers in both undemocratic and democratic parts of the world, including Europe and the United States, agree that even 72 years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of speech must be protected, the rule of law defended, and discrimination combated. “Unfortunately, we are witnessing an escalating crisis of fundamental values, and it makes all the more sense for us to continue to dedicate our family philanthropy to topics such as freedom and quality education,” said Michaela and Zdeněk Bakala.
The Václav Havel European Dialogues are an international project that initiates the discussion of issues surrounding the direction of contemporary Europe, taking into account the legacy of Václav Havel. This year’s theme responds to the current dismal state of the media environment in a number of European countries. Based on international analyses, there is a direct link between freedom of expression, the state of democracy, and quality of life.
The speed and mass of social networks and digital media have changed the rules. Their availability informs people quickly, but on the other hand, there is a risk of misinformation that can undermine democratic values. At the conference: Edita Hrdá, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU, and Pavel Klucký, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Brussels, Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the EU Commission and Commissioner for Values and Transparency, Václav Štětka, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies at the University Loughborough, Yevhen Hlibovytsky, a board member of the Association of Ukrainian Public Broadcasting Companies, and Dan Michaels, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal in Brussels, participated in the debate on these topics. European Dialogues were organized in cooperation with Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU, Czech Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium, and Czech Centre in Brussels. The recording of Václav Havel’s European Dialogues is available online on the Havel Channel.
Freedom of expression and media independence are the values inherent in the Bakala family’s philanthropy. The Bakalas and Economia recently decided to contribute financially to the launch of the new Hungarian Telex project, in response to the current threat to freedom of expression and free media in Hungary. When asked about the intentions behind supporting the new editorial team, Zdenek replied: “The only condition with which the gift is linked is Telex’s commitment to providing professional, free journalism.”