25.03.2014 - ODG

New Frontiers for Freedom of Expression - Upsala Nya Tidning (Sweden)

Joint article published by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO and Birgitta Ohlsson, Minister of European Union Affairs in Upsala Nya Tidning (Sweden), 25 March 2014.

Freedom of expression may never have had it so good. More and more people are able to access, produce and share information, within and across national borders. And yet, the full picture is not so rosy.

New threats are posing steep challenges to freedom of expression. These take different shapes -- from digital controls, censorship and blocking to physical threats and violence against journalists.

The dangers posed to journalists working in conflict zones are undeniable. During recent years we have seen frequent evidence of how exposed and vulnerable media staff is, as they are targets of harassments, threats and attacks.

Merely weeks ago, Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner became one of the hundreds of journalists killed for their work as he was shot to death in Afghanistan while reporting from the up-coming election.

Swedish citizen Dawit Isaak has been imprisoned in Eritrea since 2001 without a trial. Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye spent 14 months in an Ethiopian prison, charged with terrorist crimes. Magnus Falkehed and Niclas Hammarström were kidnapped and held hostage in Syria for 46 days.

430 journalists were killed between 2007 and 2012, including 23 women, who face rising forms of abuse, including sexual assault. This conclusion echoes that of a UNESCO-supported survey on Violence and Harassment against Women in the News Media, produced earlier this month.

UNESCO condemns the killing of all journalists and calls for an investigation into the murder of Nils Horner. Media workers must be able to carry out their work and keep society informed.

In order to tackle the many challenges that undermine freedom of expression, we must start by understanding them better.

This gap is filled by UNESCO’s new publication on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, mandated by UNESCO Member States and supported by Sweden. We will both launch this new Report at a conference in Stockholm on 25 March.

The result is a portrait of change and disruption -- across the world, at all levels. The media business is undergoing a revolution with the rise of digital networks, online platforms and social media. New actors are emerging, including citizen journalists, who are redrawing the boundaries of journalism.

Traditional news institutions continue to be agenda-setters for media and public communications but at the same time, new global media actors are setting the pace in an increasingly competitive ecosystem.

Online journalism through social media is blurring the lines between advertising and editorial material, and private actors emerge as key intermediaries, accompanied by new forms of ‘private censorship.’

New technology is opening channels for new voices but women remain excluded to greater or lesser degrees in media content and decision-making.

All of this, we believe, must be a call to action. First, we must continue gathering data on trends in freedom of expression, which is undergoing a revolution. Second, we need to raise global awareness and continue to call attention every time a journalist is killed and call for thorough investigations.

Third, we need a new focus on gender equality. How can society get the full story with only half of the world’s voices? This is why UNESCO has launched a Global Alliance on Gender and Media, to promote gender equality in and throughout the media.

Fourth, we need stronger collective action by the UN and other international and regional bodies. One example is the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, spearheaded by UNESCO and being implemented in Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan and Iraq.

Lastly, we need to act on the ground – to strengthen national legislative frameworks, to train journalists, to build capacity and advance media and information literacy.

Fundamentally, we must not lose our sense of direction. We must continue promoting freedom of expression, at all levels and across the globe.

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