Fundamental questions about the future of free expression were posed by a panel of academics at the 60th conference of the International Association for Media and Communications Research in Cartagena, Colombia, this week.
“The ecology of press freedom is being disturbed,” said Monroe Price of the University of Pennsylvania, USA, who is a contributor to the forthcoming and third edition of the UNESCO’s report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development.
Warning about longterm dangers of delegitimizing the democratic role of the media, he asked: “Will words require passports and visas to travel across frontiers?”.
The professor also questioned whether “media pluralism in a time of abundance” should prompt a rethink about whether the issue was just about “more content”.
Another participant, Julie Posetti of the University of Wollongong Australia, suggested that the World Trends report give more attention to audiences.
In favour of an “audience-centric metric to assess media freedom”, she said it was time to move beyond the idea that media-freedom was only for journalists. “We also need to take account of audience capacity to interact with the media, including the freedom to access media, to consume and to produce content.”
In addition, different research methods beyond online sources were needed for regions which were data-poor, she said.
Posetti’s remarks were based on her paper “The caveats and challenges of analysing world trends in freedom of expression and media development" co-authored with the University of South Africa's Julie Reid. Both have been contributors to previous editions of UNESCO's World Trends reports.
UNESCO Regional Advisor for Communication-Information, Guilherme Godoi, told the session that the first edition of the World Trends report had been downloaded 64 000 times.
Commenting on how the forthcoming new report could cover the Latin American and Caribbean region, he cited additional topics besides issues of media concentration and growth in mobile internet access.
“There has been a major increase in the region in countries adopting freedom of information laws,” he noted. “Other important trends are visible in increased investigative journalism, killing of journalists and decisions by the judiciary on freedom of expression issues.”