UNESCO’s internet indicators should assess practical realities – academics


Interventions by eight experts at a UNESCO presentation yesterday emphasized that UNESCO’s indicators for Internet Universality should be able assess the reality of implementation of laws, and not just the existence of legal frameworks.

The occasion was a session at the annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, held at the University of Oregon in Eugene, USA.

UNESCO’s project to develop indicators for Internet Universality takes place under auspices of the Organization’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC). The chair of this 39-Member State body, Albana Shala, told the audience of some 60 researchers about IPDC’s role in developing earlier research tools such as the Media Development Indicators (MDI’s).

She explained that the new indicators would be presented for possible endorsement by the IPDC in November as a follow-up to the MDI’s, and availed to interested researchers who wished to use them to assess Internet Universality in their country.

Adopted by UNESCO Member States in 2015, Internet Universality advocates an Internet aligned to human rights, openness, accessibility to all, and multistakeholder participation, summarized as the R.O.A.M principles.
The indicators have been developed and refined over two years of extensive consultations, as well as recent pretests in four countries. They will be piloted in a number of countries during July-August, and revised for the final version to be presented to IPDC.

In her remarks, Robin Mansell, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom, welcomed the initiative as a unique contribution to the range of other sets of indicators about the Internet.

However, she cautioned about the need for researchers using the UNESCO tool to dig deep. As an example, she said, a particular state might appear to be a champion of Openness by having a policy on open public data - but in practice, it could also be providing no funds for archiving or metadata of university research.

In an intervention on the Rights indicators, Loreto Corredoira, Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, said it was important to assess cases of “hyper-regulation” as well as the impact of copyright and “hate speech” laws.  She noted that protection of human rights online has tended to lag the actual development of the Internet.

From Kenya’s Daystar University, Levi Obonyo said that researchers would need to assess whether “hate speech” and cybersecurity laws are being used to arbitrarily restrict online expression. He also urged having indicators that could assess the extent to which users protect the rights of others.

Addressing indicators on Accessibility for all, Gerard Goggin of Australia’s University of Sydney, highlighted the importance of assessing Internet inclusivity, especially in terms of poverty and disability.

From Nigeria, Olunifesi Adekunle Suraj of University of Lagos underlined the importance – for Accessibility - of indicators about the costs of smartphones and broadband subscriptions.

He welcomed assessment of the institutionalisation of Media and Information in schools and universities, and urged the expansion of the indicator to include competencies for intercultural dialogue.

Julia Pohle of WZB Berlin, Germany, urged that the category of Multistakeholder Participation include indicators to analyse the extent to which processes were on an equal footing, open, and transparent, and not simply serving as a label for selected invitees meeting behind closed doors.

It is also important, she added, to assess whether a country has a specialised public sphere such as dedicated blogs and fora to Internet governance issues, when looking at the Multistakeholder environment. Furthermore, the indicators should be expanded to help assess whether participation is meaningful in terms of its impact.

Looking at the cross-cutting indicators category, Tanja Bosch of South Africa’s University of Cape Town drew attention to considering rural-urban divides, as well as differential situations for men and women – especially in terms of online rights and accessibility.

Carolyn Byerly of the USA’s Howard University proposed stronger indicators for assessing gender power and control, such as the proportions of women who are CEOs and who serve in company boards of directors, regulatory bodies and law-making bodies.