Irina Bokova promotes freedom of expression as a fundamental human right
On 26 January 2011, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova opened the second 'International Symposium on Freedom of Expression' held at the Organization's Headquarters in Paris. Also present were Birgitta Ohlsson, Minister for European Union Affairs of Sweden, Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and Mónica González Mujica, laureate of the 2010 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
The symposium was organized in order to explore the current state of press freedom across the globe, the safety of media professionals and freedom of expression over the Internet.
In her opening address, the Director-General outlined the paradox between the possibilities offered by the digital age and the challenges that it also brings to the safety of those who publicly disseminate information. She also recalled that the majority of the world's population still does not have access to the benefits of information and communication technologies.
Noting the good example offered by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which UNESCO established with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Irina Bokova argued that "we must design innovative ways to promote access and creation of local content and applications, to develop media literacy, and to open new horizons for sharing information and knowledge. (...) This is vital for empowering citizens to participate in social and politica life. This is crucial for healthy societies, sustainable economies and transparent governance. The Internet offers tremendous opportunities, but these must be made accessible to all -- in ways that all can understand, by means that are cheap and easy", she stated.
The Director-General underscored that UNESCO raises awareness about challenges to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "We ring the bell when violations occur. We promote media and information literacy to increase access and ease the free flow of ideas. We support the expression of pluralism and cultural diversity in the media. And we work to widen access for all to information."
She concluded by calling on all those listening to join UNESCO in its work on freedom of expression. "Protecting this fundamental human right is a process without an end. The case must be continually argued, violation of this right should never be accepted, and States and societies have to be helped to move forward."