The Legacy of Peter Forsskål
In 2016, the world commemorated the sestercentennial adoption of His Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press. The passage of the Ordinance in 1766 in Sweden – which at the time comprised today’s Sweden and Finland – was preceded by intense political and scholarly debate. Peter Forsskål put himself at the centre of that debate, when he in 1759 published the pamphlet Thoughts on Civil Liberty, consisting of 21 paragraphs setting out his thoughts advocating against oppression and tyranny and championing civil rights for everyone.
Historical perspectives are fruitful in many respects, and this is why Forsskål’s words still resonate. But we must be careful not to use the tracks of history to create myths about today – instead anniversaries like the one concerning the Ordinance can be used as a starting point for debate – to discuss our history and where we stand now in terms of freedom of expression, the right to information and freedom of the press.
It was against such a backdrop that a seminar was organized as a side event, part of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki, 3 May 2016, and co-organized by the National Archives of Finland, Project Forsskal and the UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression, Media Development and Global Policy at the University of Gothenburg. This publication is based on that seminar.