Brussels, 16 October 2020. "There cannot be development if we don't have public access to information and fundamental freedoms. One of the things we have learned from this pandemic is just how important SDG 16.10 is," said Guy Berger at a conference organized by the European Parliament on 13 October 2020.
The conference organized as part of the European Parliament S&D Africa Week provided an online plateau for discussing the EU – Africa partnership in a panel entitled 'Africa - Europe: Digital transition, education, democracy and inequality in the context of COVID-19.'
In his speech, Berger reflected on hurdles that followed the start of the pandemic, the growing disinformation causing a parallel 'disinfodemic,' and the often restrictive nature of the laws put in place to combat that trend. "New laws proposed to counter disinformation or 'fake news' have put journalists at criminal risk, led to internet shutdowns and censorship. Freedom of expression that could be part of the solution against the disinformation is becoming a casualty because of the over-responses in both Europe and Africa," he said.
In such a challenging environment, UNESCO supports independent media, in particular community media and empowers citizens to think critically about the information they receive, to address the Covid-19 disinfodemic in Africa. A significant part of this work is done as part of an EU-funded Project #CoronavirusFacts.
Yet, if the Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of the internet as a tool for education, access to information, health, culture and countless other aspects of daily life, we must keep in mind that still a part of humanity does not have access to the internet and/or does not have the knowledge and skills to use digital technologies.
"We must aim to develop digital skills for all because digitalisation is one of the key tools for implementing the 2030 Agenda SDGs, and the AU’s Agenda 2063. Digitalisation also means access to information that enables all voices to be heard in the democratic process," highlighted Ms Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International partnerships during the discussion. "As we tackle the pandemic, we have to look beyond it, we have to build back better so that the youth have opportunities to change their lives," she concluded.
About the #CoronavirusFacts project:
Based on the central tenet that information is the opposite of disinformation, the UNESCO project #CoronavirusFacts leverages the pivotal role of freedom of expression and access to information to address information needs in times of COVID-19 and to tackle the massive wave of disinformation which threatens to impact democracy, sustainable development and stability around the world. Funded by the European Union, the project supports professional, diverse and independent media’s capacity to report on the pandemic; strengthens local fact-checking organisations to debunk misinformation; and empowers youth and other citizens to critically process what they read and hear linked to COVID-19 through training in media and information literacy.
To learn more, visit https://en.unesco.org/covid19/disinfodemic/coronavirusfacts