UNESCO consults academics on Internet indicators

20 July 2017

Five Internet specialists provided expert comment this week on UNESCO’s project to develop indicators for the Organisation’s concept of “Internet Universality”.

The discussion took place at the annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communications Research, in Cartagena, Colombia this week.

The indicators project follows the decision of UNESCO’s 2015 General Conference to endorse the concept of “Internet Universality” and its four principles of Human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multistakeholder participation.

At a well-attended session, Robin Mansell (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK), said that the proposed indicators could be used for “emancipatory” rather than “catch-up” purposes.

Her point was taken further from the floor by Binod Agrawal (MICA, India), who emphasised that “Internet universality” should not lead to cultural and linguistic domination via the Internet. 

In her remarks, Mansell also described as an upside of indicators the possibility that they could encourage investment in key issues.

The issue of investment in online local content was taken up further by Jeremy Shterns (Ryerson University, Canada). He signalled a new trend in sponsored entertainment content online, produced by local people in local languages. This suggested that there could be an indicator linked to local content and cultural diversity, he said.

Claudia Padovani (Padova University, Italy) proposed that gender be mainstreamed through the indicators and not reduced to the principle of accessibility. It was not enough to look at the inclusion of women in Internet issues, she said, but rather at transformation as covered in UNESCO’s Gender Sensitive Indicators for Media.

In the face of “ubiquitous digital tracking”, the proposed Internet indicators should include attention to national conditions for encryption and anonymity, said Arne Hintz (Cardiff University, UK).  Also important, he added, would be an indicator to assess the availability of online services that do not track.  

Gabriel Kaplun (Universidad de la Republica, Ecuador) said that indicators were about “what we decide for the future”, and that research using them for country assessments needed to be reliable and legitimate.

Based on his experience in Uruguay of using UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators, Kaplun signalled the need for an expert and co-ordinated research team to tackle problems of complexity, as well as the difficulty of the research being overtaken by legislative developments.

*  The IAMCR conference was also the occasion for the academic launch of the recent UNESCO publication in the Internet Freedom Series, titled “Protecting journalism sources in the digital age