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OSCE: Media Representative Claims Strong Mandate

Washington, 20 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) new press representative says he intends to work closely with non-governmental agencies, individual journalists and media institutions throughout Europe to ensure a fundamental guarantee of the OSCE -- a free press.

Freimut Duve, the new Freedom of the Media Representative of the OSCE, made the comment Thursday at a press conference in Washington. Duve, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, was elected to the newly created post last December by representatives of the 54-member countries of the OSCE.

Duve says the position was created within the OSCE in order to serve as an instrument for enhancing the effectiveness and relevancy of the organization's actions, and to assist member states in implementing OSCE commitments to a free press.

He says a similar and very successful step was already taken with the OSCE appointment of a High Commissioner on National Minorities who works on reducing conflicts that may arise from minority and ethnic problems. He says he will serve as an ombudsman with the task of examining the differences that might occur between the OSCE's written guarantees on freedom of the press and the day-to-day reality.

Duve says his specific mandate includes the observation of the media across Europe to ensure it remains free and unfettered by government control, provide a rapid response to serious non-compliance with OSCE obligations and possible involvement with individual cases in a non-judicial manner.

Duve says he is particularly concerned about helping journalists and media institutions who are on trial or in jail for violating government-drafted libel laws which restrict or prevent free speech.

Says Duve: "In a democracy, parliaments and journalists are twins -- conjoined twins, meaning that one can't live without the other. If there is no freedom of the media, then there is no freedom of the parliamentarians. If there is not a working parliament, making laws and defending people, then the freedom of the press is kept at bay."

When asked specifically what he would do to help the former communist countries in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with free press issues, Duve said he would focus on establishing good contacts with non-governmental agencies, the owners of various media institutions and journalists.

He says he will also attempt to work with government officials in these countries, especially in regards to specific complaints and suggestions for ways these countries can better meet their OSCE commitments to a free press.

Duve acknowledges that he has little official power and no judicial mandate. He says he will have to rely heavily on the OSCE and other international organizations such as the Council of Europe to support his activities.

Says Duve: "Organizing influence, that is something I can do. I think if people realize that I am backed by governments they might need.... well, then they might listen to me a bit more carefully."