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UNESCO consults on developing Internet Universality Indicators during World Press Freedom Day

02 June 2017


Left to right: Joe Cannataci, Gayathri Venkiteswaran, Gayathri Khandhada, Constance Bommelaer and Mogens Blicher Bjerregard.

Civil society groups, journalists, Internet experts and the UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy reaffirmed the value of developing normative indicators to assess Internet Universality last month. This was during a special session on 4 May 2017 during the global World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Jakarta, Indonesia.

At the event, UNESCO presented its new project “Defining Internet Universality Indicators” which aims to elaborate appropriate criteria for stakeholders to assess Internet’s role in building knowledge societies and sustainable development.

Mr Guy Berger, Director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, explained that the indicators fields covered Human Rights, Openness, Accessibility, and Multi-stakeholder participation (ROAM).  

The session was chaired by Ms Gayatri Khandhada, Project Coordinator at IMPACT (India, Malaysia, Pakistan Advocacy for Change through Technology). She also represented the Association of Progress Communications, which has been contracted to help develop the indicators.

Mr Khandhada called for consideration of local cultures when developing the indicators as “there are cultural issues in the expansion of internet access; yet, peripheral cultures can still exist and express themselves vis-a-vis the dominant culture through the Internet”.

Specific suggestions were made by Joseph Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy and leading author of UNESCO publication Privacy, Free Expression and Transparency.  In addition to proposals concerning surveillance, transparency and whistleblower protection, he also suggested as indicators:

“Does the country have privacy and data protection laws which are applicable to the Internet?”

“Does the country have a separate independent authority to which the citizen can have recourse if his or her privacy is infringed?”

Mogens Blicher Bjerregard, Member of the Intergovernmental Council at UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), proposed that the indicators consider the question of intellectual property of journalists and media.

For Gayathry Venkiteswaran, former Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), “the concept of Internet universality should consider the status and fate of refugees, immigrants or minorities in border areas where people are stateless, marginalized and without any access to civil rights”.

She added: “It should also consider other indicators accommodating issues such as cultural barriers and right to information”.

Concluding the session, Guy Berger highlighted that the Internet Universality Indicators would give a practical dimension to the ROAM principles, and enable actors at the national level to identify where there could be room for improvement in Internet-related policies in their country.

The exercise builds on the experience of UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators and other indicator work under the auspices of the IPDC.

UNESCO is encouraging interested entities and individuals to engage with its ongoing global consultation process, which includes a series of physical consultation events and online consultations via email (more information can be received by emailing  A dedicated website will be launched at the World Summit of the Information Society Forum in Geneva during June 2017. 

The project is supported by Sweden and Internet Society, and the elaboration of the indicators for presentation to the IPDC will be finalized by June 2018.