UNESCO calls for strengthening the role of media and social media in advancing SDGs at WSIS Forum 2018


“Social media’s challenges offer useful excuses and even scapegoats for restricting citizens’ access to information and, more broadly, to media freedom. Counter-intuitively, there is a need to strengthen the role of media and social media in the digital age”, was a major issue raised during the C9 Action Line meeting organized by UNESCO at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Forum held in Geneva (Switzerland), on 22 March 2018.

Building on UNESCO’s 2017/2018 World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Report, participants of the C9 media facilitation meeting held at the WSIS Forum 2018 debated a wide range of issues, including the lack of attention given to human rights online, misinformation, youth and violent extremism online, the significance of artistic freedom in the digital age, and collaborative Internet governance models. They also talked about UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators and the rights and principles that should apply online.

“UNESCO World Trends Report is a unique, holistic and global report, which explores recent developments at the global and regional levels in media freedom, pluralism, independence, and safety, each examined through a gender-sensitive lens and with special attention given to transnational and digital media” pointed out Xianhong Hu (UNESCO) who opened and chaired the session.

“The right of artists to express themselves freely is under threat worldwide,” said Jyoti Hosagrahar, UNESCO’s Director of Division for Creativity. “New digital technologies and media platforms introduce challenges but also provide great opportunities in this regard. They open new channels for new voices (women, citizen journalists, amateur film producers). We therefore need a legislative base and policies like the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions to support all artists’ rights,” she added to address the crosscutting aspect of WSIS Action Line C8 Cultural diversity and C9 Media on promoting freedom of artistic expression, public service broadcasting and content/language diversity.

Underlining that “there is a lack of attention given to human rights online”, Giacomo Mazzone, Head of Institutional Relations at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), insisted on the fact that “more importance should be given to the independence of media public service. They should serve citizens, not the state or the government.”

“Governments fear social media they can’t control and there is no accountability or processes followed to implement these disruptions”, said Peter Micek from Access Now. In line with Nicolas Seidler, Senior Policy Analyst at the Internet Society, who highlighted “the growing number of network shutdowns around the world”, Peter Micek added that “the Internet is the greatest tool in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the same time, we see rising pressure on Internet platforms to protect content online, and privacy and data protection tools related to freedom of expression are more and more relevant.”

“It is encouraging that we are also seeing increasing attempts to adequately measure challenges, not only in UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators, but also its new Internet Universality indicators, which are examples of relevant indicators which will enable positive change,” stressed Anri van der Spuy from Research ICT Africa regarding UNESCO’s Internet Universality indicators

The session also tackled the WSIS Action Line C10 Ethical dimensions of the information society and debated issues related to data ethics and the role of social media in countering violent extremism by presenting UNESCO’s study “Youth and violent extremism on social media” which provides a global mapping of research into the assumed roles played by social media in online radicalization violent extremism processes, especially as they affect youth and women.

Xianhong Hu concluded the session by encouraging stakeholders to trigger debates on media issues based on UNESCO’s World Trends report and advocating the Internet Universality Indicators as a concrete way to assess and strengthen online media and social media by “promoting a Rights-based, Open, Accessible and Multistakeholder Internet”.

At the end of the session, UNESCO distributed copies of its Series on Internet Freedom, which sheds light on important issues, including What if we all governed the Internet? and Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age.