SCT’s prototype Speakers’ Corner, designed by Central St Martins College of Art & Design and sponsored by the British Council, made its first appearance as the centerpiece of the aptly named Marketplace of Ideas in Oslo on 6 June 2009.
The Marketplace, created in the University Square on Oslo’s principal street Karl Johan’s Gate, was organised by FK Norway (the successor body to the Norwegian Peace Corps) and the Global Forum for Freedom of Expression as the culmination of a major international conference which had brought together campaigners for free expression, civil liberties and human rights and journalists from 100 countries around the world for a week of meetings, seminars, lectures and workshops.
The organisers conceived the Marketplace as a way in which the Forum could not only engage the Norwegian public in discussion about freedom of expression but also provide an arena for open debate.
As they explained, “the term Marketplace of Ideas asserts that liberal democracy is based on the idea that the truth or the best policy arises out of the competition of diverse ideas in free, transparent public discourse. The best way to challenge views that are untenable, dangerous or just plain stupid is in free and open debate. The Marketplace is a space where all ideas – whatever they are, however they are motivated – are heard, understood, disputed, challenged and ultimately discarded or adopted.”
The event was a great success. Compered by the distinguished Norwegian journalist and documentary maker Erling Borgen, speakers from no fewer than nine countries (Burma, Chechnya, Norway, Sudan, Tibet, UK, Yemen, Uganda and Zambia) engaged a fascinated audience of civil liberties activistss as well as members of the public for over four hours of speaking, poetry reading and dance.
Speaking after the event, the British Council’s Norway manager Karoline Tellum-Djarraya said:
“This was a really worthwhile initiative and I’m really glad that the British Council was able to play a part in bringing it to Oslo.
“Speakers’ Corner is a great British institution respected all over the world. But as the speakers from many countries who adopted it as their platform on Saturday showed, freedom of expression is a basic human right – and the need for it is all the greater in those societies where it is currently denied. The Speakers’ Corner at the heart of the Marketplace of Ideas was a really uplifting experience and one we’ll remember for a long time.”