Norway’s World Expression Forum: The Inaugural Program

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

A ‘Davos of free speech,’ the opening WEXFO, May 30 and 31, features world specialists including the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Speakers at Norway’s first WEXFO, May 30 and 31, include, upper row from left: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov; Anette Trettebergstuen, Norwegian minister of culture and equality; the Annenberg School for Communication’s Victor Pickard; and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa. On the lower row from left: Věra Jourová, European Commission vice-president and chair of the commissioner’s group on European democracy; Dex Hunter-Torricke of Meta’s Facebook Oversight Board; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark; and Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Way Forward’
The timing of the new World Expression Forum seems almost tactical.

Just as the Kremlin has closed Russia’s two last independent broadcast news media, Echo of Moscow and TV Rain—as Anton Troianovski at The New York Times and many other world news outlets reported on Friday (March 4)—Norway’s newly founded World Expression Forum (WEXFO) has announced the programming for its first high-level gathering at Lillehammer.

Even as thousands of Russians are arrested for speaking out against Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, the new forum–dubbed a “Davos of free speech”–is opening its annual event series on May 30 and 31 with an internationally recognized roster of leadership in issues of the freedom of expression.

That aspirational reference to Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum sets the bar very high, but WEXFO’s plans take on present-day autocratic assaults on the most valuable currency on Earth: the right to free expression.

In response, the new Lillehammer program is laying out an intensive two-day gathering in which such a timely intervention as the Russian Nobel-winning journalist Dmitry Muratov’s keynote “Lessons Learned and the Way Forward” will draw avid interest against the current backdrop of unspeakable war and displacement in an unprovoked attack on the democratic sovereign state of Ukraine.

We’d like to signal to those who may be interested in attending this inaugural WEXFO that registration is now open, but that hurrying is important relative to accommodations: WEXFO has guaranteed rooms at the conference hotel, the Scandic Lillehammer, but only through Tuesday (March 15). After that it may not be possible to find rooms at the venue’s hotel. The conference pass doesn’t include the cost of accommodations but provides a link to book the hotel through Tuesday.

The program has been developed in hybrid format so that attendees can choose in-person attendance in Lillehammer or digital access. The basic early bird in-person rate is 3,950 Norwegian kroner (US$441.72). The digital-access pass is 990 kroner (US$110.78). Those ticketing options are here. Early-bird information on the program and the concomitant Norwegian Festival of Literature and an excursion to Utøya is here. Again, quick action is recommended if you’d like to attend in person.

Speakers Headlining the Conference

It’s clear from the structure and development of the programming for May’s forum that the programming is designed to be relevant to action. “The World Expression Forum will provide participants, present and online, with tools and ideas on how to promote freedom of expression,” a plan that includes speeches, panel discussions, “spotlight” sessions, and workshops.

An example of the “spotlight session” format is a talk by Astrid Hoem, leader of the Labour Youth Party, on the topic of “When Hate Speech Turns Into Killings.”

Key speakers include:

  • Maria Ressa, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist who founded the online news site Rappler in Manila
  • Dmitry Muratov, the Russian founder of the pro-democracy Novaya Gazeta who shared the Nobel with Ressa
  • Irene Khan, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on freedom of expression
  • Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International
  • Christo Grozev, CEO of Bellingcat, the Netherlands-based fact-checking and open-source intelligence collective
  • Bodour Al Qasimi, the president of the International Publishers Association (IPA)
  • Adam Bodnar, the former ombudsman of Poland and recipient of the Rafto Prize
  • Sebastian Lai, the son of Apple News’ publisher Jimmy Lai, who, along with the Apple Newsroom in Hong Kong, received The Golden PEN Award last year
  • Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former prime minister of Denmark and a member of Meta’s Facebook Oversight Board
  • Věra Jourová, vice-president of the European Commission and head of the commission’s work on values and transparency
  • Victor Picard, professor of media policy and political economy at the Annenberg School for Communication
  • Felicia Anthonio, a campaigner with Access Now
  • Anette Trettebergstuen, minister of culture and equality in Norway

Kristenn Einarsson

WEXFO’s managing director Kristenn Einarsson—well known to Publishing Perspectives readers as chair of the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish committee and the former CEO of the Norwegian Publishers Association—has led the development of the program.

He tells Publishing Perspectives, “We highly appreciate the fact that all these important speakers have accepted our invitation to be part of the first World Expression Forum.”

These speakers are to participate in discussions built around four central themes:

  • “The Current state of Freedom of Expression in 2022: Where is the progress? What can we learn?”
  • “State and Politics: How to Combat Growing Authoritarianism and Anti-Liberalism in Democracies”
  • “Technology and Regulations: What Are the Best Solutions?”
  • “Society, How To Deal With Hate Speech? How Can We Obtain an Inclusive Public Debate Without Censorship?”

On the second day, Einarsson says, “We’ll discuss the way forward. There are workshops in the morning and summaries at the end of the day.”

In the last week, Einarsson says, more than 100 participants have registered for the program.

“We’re also grateful for the more than 60 shareholders that contribute greatly, as well as the more than 40 persons heavily involved on the board and in the work of the committees. In these troublesome times, we need this kind of cooperation.”

Programming Highlights

Again reflective of current events–particularly as Putin closes off information channels the Russian population needs to be aware of the country’s war on Ukraine—programming planned includes a session with Felicia Anthonio of Access Now on “Shutting Down the Internet: A Growing Threat Against Freedom of Expression.”

Victor Pickard offers a keynote on “How Can We Regulate the Tech Giants, Protecting Journalist and Defending Freedom of Expression?”

During dinner on the first day, May 30, Prix Voltaire 2021 laureate Rasha Al Ameer of Beirut will speak, and more on the Middle East will be addressed in on the second day, May 31, in a discussion titled “Can You Promote Change From the Inside? Middle Eastern Experiences.” In that case, journalist Yama Wolasmal moderates, with Al Ameer joined by IPA’s Al Qasimi.

There are two sets of workshops planned for the second day, each set offering an attendee four choices on which to focus.

The first set of workshops presents these four choices:

  • Artists and writers between freedom and responsibility: What can be done to protect and promote artistic freedom?
  • Serving the public and the state facts and messages they don’t like to hear.
  • How to fight propaganda and disinformation effectively.
  • Freedom of Expression in Academia, a ghost story: What are the legitimate concerns.

The second set of workshops offers these four choices:

  • Are the limits of Freedom of Expression in flux, and if so, where should they go?
  • Youth and Freedom of Expression – Challenges and opportunities.
  • Media ang technology – where to go from here? Regulations, market and journalism.
  • Forging war: History between revisionism and new perspectives.

More on the program and its agenda is here. Once more a reminder that hotel rooms in the WEXFO venue’s hotel can be guaranteed only through March 15.

Stained glass windows at the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are boarded up in Lviv on March 8, as Vladimir Putin presses his unprovoked war on Ukraine. Image –
Getty iStockphoto: Serhii Ivashchuk

Catch up with our coverage of the Russian war on Ukraine and its impact on the country’s publishing industry and players. More from Publishing Perspectives on the Ukrainian market is here. More on the freedom to publish and the freedom of expression is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on Kristenn Einarsson and his work in the freedom of expression is here, more on the Prix Voltaire is here, and more on the Norwegian market is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here. 

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.