Discussion about freedom of expression and national security 13.9.2023


The event, organised by Finnish PEN, brought together experts on national security and freedom of expression, authors and journalists to discuss the relationship between freedom of expression and national security.

The aim of the event was not to achieve consensus, but to explore issues that need to be taken into account to safeguard freedom of expression in Finland’s rapidly evolving security context, and to encourage further discussion. For example, legislation related to national security can have negative impacts on freedom of expression. Hybrid threats, such as hostile information activities that target democratic processes, raise many challenging questions.

The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule. Read more about the rule here.

The event included presentations from experts on press freedom, artistic freedom of expression and hybrid threats.

This report is a brief summary of the discussion, which covered a wide range of issues and perspectives.


The discussion covered issues such as journalism in war, the situation in Russia and Ukraine, the state of press freedom in Finland, burnings of the Koran, EU legislation and hybrid threats.

It was noted that media can be used to spread false information and the way media report and contextualise issues can deepen divisions in society. Hostile information campaigns make use of the right to freedom of expression, a fundamental democratic right, to undermine democracy. Response measures can impact on freedom of expression and citizens’ right to receive information.

In many countries national security is a pretext for silencing journalists, for example on the basis of anti-terrorism legislation. Terrorism, which requires an audience, is also a challenge for the media, which needs to try to report without advancing the cause of terrorists.

A presenter spoke about the situation of journalists globally, noting that while Finland usually ranks high when it comes to press freedom, Finland’s ranking has fallen. The presenter raised concerns about difficulties with asylum applications experienced by journalists who have left Russia.

The speaker also noted that the saying “truth is the first casualty of war” has proved accurate.

It was noted that reporting in war tends to follow an oversimplified “villain-hero-victim” model, without deeper analysis. A participant raised the challenge of finding sources – for example university researchers – in situations where all opposition and dissenting views have been silenced.

Several participants emphasised that it is important to convey to decisionmakers that while the press freedom situation in Finland is better than in many countries, the trend is now worrying.

When discussing media literacy, an essential component of capacity to counter hostile information activities, a participant drew attention to the high level of trust within Finnish society as a decisive factor.

One presenter raised the burnings of the Koran in Nordic countries and issues related to Finland’s blasphemy legislation. Read Finnish PEN’s letter to the editor regarding this issue in Helsingin Sanomat in Finnish here.

Questions about definitions (and who should define), framing and context came up in relation to several issues. A participant suggested that a future discussion could address the context of debates on issues related to freedom of expression and national security.

Several participants drew attention to EU legislation relating to freedom of expression online and raised several concerns. For example, the regulation on terrorist online content, which requires online platforms to remove terrorist content within one hour of receiving a removal order, created considerable risks that other content will be removed and the risk of misuse by authorities.

Participants discussed the European Media Freedom Act, currently under negotiation. Controversy has arisen regarding a proposed article, which would require online platforms to treat content produced by media outlets differently than other content, including waiting before removing content. There are concerns that an exception for media could be used to spread disinformation. Journalists are also urging the European Parliament to include an absolute ban on using spyware against journalists.

Several concerns were also raised about the proposed EU regulation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse. Its aim is extremely important, but in its current form the regulation is likely to result in the end of encrypted communications and in general large-scale monitoring, impacting for example journalists’ confidential communications.

A presenter noted that hybrid threats are multidimensional and have for example cultural and legal dimensions. Hybrid threats are a Western concept and are not a new phenomenon. Participants commented on for example the “European values” that the EU aims to defend as part of its response to hybrid threats.

The presenter noted that hybrid threats can be difficult to grasp. It can be difficult to confirm that a hybrid threat, which involves a malign actor seeking a certain outcome, is occurring. Hybrid threats involve both state and non-state actors – for example, commercial enterprises may be involved. There can be an intergovernmental context, for example, a malign actor seeking to influence the content of EU legislation that is under development. The presenter noted the concept of FIMI used by the EU, which stands for the threat of foreign information manipulations and interference.

The presenter highlighted two trends and related concerns. The first concerns the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI), which raises many concerns, for example related to fact-based journalism. AI tools could be used, for example, to produce a large amount of misleading data that contains a certain bias, which reporting or even research is then based on. The other trend concerns increasing microtargeting of individuals online. Online platforms and companies gather large amounts of data, which makes it possible to create very detailed profiles of individuals. This allows very precise targeting of advertising, for example election advertising.

Finnish PEN thanks the presenters and participants.

PEN johtokunta