Building peace in the minds of men and women

Panel analyses freedom of expression in an information society

The World Social Science Forum held in Montreal, Canada, from 13 to 15 October 2013, was an appropriate event to discuss challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression on the Internet, at a special panel convened by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

Focused on the topic of ”Rethinking freedom of expression in an information society”, five speakers presented papers tackling different angles during a multilingual session.

As a sign of the times, speaker Julien Saada, from the Université du Québec, used electronic conferencing from his location in France to present the complex relations of cyberactivists with journalism during the Arab Spring.

Laura Tribe of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression highlighted how Internet could intensify campaign work for free speech.

UNESCO Chair holder at the Université du Québec, Yves Théorêt, addressed the regulation of media convergence and the need for pluralism in situations of media concentration. He is the general secretary of Orbicom, the network of UNESCO Chairs in Communication.

Award-winning journalist Stephen Strauss described how science writers in Canada responded to a “tsunami” of online information in their fields by developing the authenticity of blogs on their website.

Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, Guy Berger, highlighted the 1991 Windhoek Declaration on a free, pluralistic and independent press, and the action lines for media under the World Summit on the Information Society, which came a decade later. He described ways in which the Internet posed questions for this legacy, and posited how a draft concept of Internet Universality could address them with reference to the human rights, openness, accessibility and multi-stakeholder participation.

The World Social Science Forum attracts hundreds of academics from around the world. The Montreal event was held in partnership with UNESCO, and also included a special session organized by the Social and Human Sciences Sector titled “Civil society, sciences and policy makers: digital technologies and platforms for sustainable development”.

The next Forum will be held in Durban, South Africa, in 2015.