What is the Westminster Declaration? Explanation, meaning

The Westminster Declaration was written in Westminster on October 18, 2023, and speaks out against censorship. It is an open letter published by 137 renowned representatives from institutions and the media, artists, scientists, activists and journalists of all political persuasions. The signatories are of all political persuasions and express with the declaration that they are extremely concerned about the increasing censorship in several areas of life.

What is the Westminster Declaration? Content, Declaration

The authors of the Westminster Declaration see freedom of expression, a human right, in danger, and make various demands in their open letter. They warn urgently that the curtailment of freedom of expression that is evident worldwide is leading to an undermining of democratic norms. In their opinion, the curtailment of freedom of expression is masked and thus trivialized by the inflationary use of terms such as misinformation and disinformation. In their Fall 2023 open letter, they note that critical voices around the world are increasingly suppressed, leaving the population in many countries with only manipulated access to information. The intimidation of critics has serious consequences for human freedom and leads to a threat to democratic societies.

The authors see the increasing restriction of freedom of expression, for example, in the fact that governments, universities, but also non-profit organizations and social platforms increase their activities regarding surveillance and censorship of citizens. This phenomenon (called the censorship industrial complex or industrial censorship complex) can be seen particularly in Turkey, Brazil, Poland, Scotland, Ireland, Australia and the United Kingdom. Subtle methods of censorship are also on the rise. In this context, for example, the suppression of legal representations in social networks, the suppression of search engine results and visibility filters using appropriate technology should be mentioned.

The EU’s plan to abolish end-to-end encryption for the transmission of information on the Internet poses a particular threat. They sharply criticize the EU’s plans because they represent massive cuts in the privacy of each individual citizen and also restrict their freedom. The authors of the Westminster Declaration emphasize that freedom of expression is not a right that citizens have to earn and have approved. Rather, it is a cornerstone of every democracy, the foundation of a self-determined life. The authors of the Declaration want their children to grow up in a world where they do not have to be afraid to speak their minds. They want a future for their children and their children’s children in which they can express and discuss their ideas without fear – a world that the founders of democracy also envisioned.

Because that is precisely why they enshrined the right to freedom of expression in the constitutions of democracies. For example, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is a particularly good example of how the right to freedom of speech, press, and conscience can be protected by law. The drafters do not see it as essential to agree on all points, but to recognize these crucial freedoms as vital liberties. They call for citizens of democratic states to denounce violations of basic human rights and to fight for their freedom. They call for promoting freedom of expression, defending it, and standing up against intolerance. For it is only on the basis of freedom of expression that humanity can ultimately develop.

Summary Content: Westminster Declaration

The Westminster Declaration denounces the threat to democratic norms posed by growing international censorship. The signatories of the Declaration join forces to uphold universal human rights and freedom of expression.

The Declaration criticizes the misuse of terms such as „misinformation“ and „disinformation“ that have led to the censorship of citizens, journalists and dissidents worldwide. They point to the growing threat of state actors, social media companies, universities, and non-governmental organizations monitoring citizens and suppressing their opinions.

According to the Declaration, an „industrial censorship complex“ operates through direct government action and more subtle methods such as the manipulation of search engine results and deplatforming. In addition, the Declaration denounces content moderation by technology companies in collusion with governments and non-governmental organizations.

The Declaration calls for compliance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes the right to freedom of expression and information. It calls on governments, technology companies and the general public to work to uphold democratic rights and promote a climate of freedom of expression and exchange.

The declaration emphasizes that freedom of expression is fundamental to preventing abuses of power by governments and that censorship undermines democratic foundations. It concludes with the idea that freedom of expression is the foundation for a meaningful life and a flourishing humanity enriched by art, philosophy, stories and debate. The Declaration was written by signatories who, despite political differences, are united in the cause of freedom of expression.

Westminster Declaration: famous and well-known first signatories

Among the signatories are numerous celebrities such as: (excerpt)

  • Edward Snowden (whistleblower)
  • John Cleese (Comedian)
  • Dr. Jordan B. Peterson (psychologist)
  • Julian Assange (founder of Wikileaks and activist)
  • Oliver Stone (filmmaker)
  • Slavoj Žižek (philosopher)
  • Tim Robbins (actor)
  • Yanis Varoufakis (economist and politician)

In total, there were 137 initial signatories to the Westminister Declaration.

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