Advances in technology and innovative business models have opened avenues for freedom of expression across the world, but new challenges have also emerged in the form of internet censorship, filtering, blocking and surveillance, according to a UNESCO report released today in Stockholm.
The study, World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, recognizes that new technologies have empowered individuals with unprecedented opportunities to access, produce and share media content across multiple platforms. At the same time, the Report warns that the increasing control of online content by Internet intermediaries, such as search engines and social media networks, threatens transparency in the free flow of information and raises concerns about the “privatization of censorship.” According to the Report, journalists and online media actors face new threats related to their safety in the digital sphere.
For UNESCO, the findings of the Report call for reinforced action in support of press freedom.
“Freedom of expression is essential to dignity, dialogue, democracy and sustainable development”, said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “We need to act on the ground – to strengthen national legislative frameworks, to train journalists, to build capacity and advance media and information literacy. We must continue to support media independence by promoting professional standards and self-regulation,” she added.
In partnership with UNESCO, an Advisory Group of 27 international experts from civil society and academia contributed to the study, which analyzes trends in press freedom along four dimensions: freedom, pluralism, independence and the safety of journalists. The Report explores major trends in these areas since 2007 around the world, with a particular focus on global media and the gender dimensions of press freedom.
According to the Report, progress towards greater media freedom has lost momentum in some regions that have experienced political transitions, and press freedom laws have not always been effectively implemented. Direct and self-censorship remain challenges to journalists worldwide.
Despite the continued economic dominance of a handful of companies in both traditional and online media, the vast expansion of information sources and platforms has positively impacted media pluralism.
The Report also finds that State or public advertising continue to affect independent reporting. At the same time new business models are prompting the emergence of independent journalistic organizations, such as non-profit investigative journalism groups.
International awareness of the importance of journalists’ safety has significantly risen over the last six years. This is due in large part to the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. However, the number of journalist killings has continued to rise. According to UNESCO’s data, 430 journalists were killed between 2007 and 2012, including 23 women, who face rising forms of intimidation and abuse, including sexual assault. Although conflict zones remain the most dangerous places for journalists, between 2007 and 2011 more were killed outside of these areas, and impunity for these crimes remains the norm, the Report notes.
Additional regional sections in each of the four thematic chapters will be published as an online companion to the Report later this spring.
World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development was produced with support from the Government of Sweden.
World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development is openly-licensed and available online here