16.05.2012 - UNESCO

Freedom of expression on Internet debated at 7th UNESCO convened facilitation meeting at WSIS Forum 2012

UNESCO facilitation meeting at WSIS Forum 2012 - © UNESCO

For the seventh year UNESCO convened a facilitation meeting on WSIS Action Line C9: Media at WSIS Forum 2012 in Geneva on 14 May 2012. This year the meeting focused on promoting freedom of expression on Internet and social media. UNESCO took this opportunity to promote its publication Freedom of Connection, Freedom of Expression: the Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet.

Panellists and participants recognized that freedom of expression on Internet is a crucial challenge to address in formulating inclusive information society. Panellists from Council of Europe, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Association of Progressive Communication presented various challenges and threats for freedom of expression on Internet and shared recently developed international and regional standards and policy recommendations on protecting Internet freedom. Media stakeholders from Transforming Broadcasting, AMARC and ITU reported recent development of public service broadcasting, community radio and digital switch over of broadcasting and shared their vision and good practice of strengthening traditional media through embracing and optimizing potential of Internet and ICTs. The representative from Transforming Broadcasting presented the new publication A Road Map to Public Service Broadcasting at the meeting.

Participants debated on how to apply and implement those principles, standards and recommendations of freedom of expression to Internet and social media in practice, given the complexity of information environment on Internet and challenge on applicable jurisdiction posed by trans-border nature of cyberspace. Many participants expressed their deep concern about Internet privacy, hatred speech, security, illegal uses of Internet and child pornography. Panellists suggested that freedom of expression needs to be promoted with legitimate limitations and in balance with other digital rights within an expanded legal and regulatory framework. Civil society stakeholders pointed out the challenge to deal with liability of intermediaries and governmental surveillance, which might undermine freedom of expression. They particularly highlighted that business interest is increasingly protected for the reason of copyright by developed countries, with freedom of expression and free flow of information sacrificed. 

UNESCO has committed itself to enabling a free, open and accessible Internet space as part of promoting comprehensive freedom of expression online and offline, and believes these discussions will contribute to WSIS review process, particularly concerning human rights implications of ICTs.

UNESCO has organized this meeting in its capacity of facilitator of Action line 9: Media from 2006 to 2012, and as part of its efforts to ensure regular dialogue and stimulate collaborations on media-related activities, in line with the objectives decided upon at the Geneva and Tunis Summits.

The WSIS 2003 Plan of Action states in Action Line C9: Media: “The media - in their various forms and with a diversity of ownership - as an actor, have an essential role in the development of the Information Society and are recognized as an important contributor to freedom of expression and plurality of information.”

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