Building peace in the minds of men and women

United Nations Launch of UNESCO Report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression

9 July -- At the United Nations in New York, UNESCO Director-General joined with Ambassador Mårten Grunditz, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations, to launch the UNESCO Report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

“Freedom of expression is about individual empowerment,” said Irina Bokova in her introduction. “It is about the rights and dignity of entire societies. And this fundamental freedom faces a mixed horizon of opportunity and challenge -- to tackle these threats and make the most of all opportunities, we need to understand them better and that is the importance of this Report.”

The Report offers a new look at recent evolutions in media freedom, independence, pluralism and journalist safety. These areas are explored at the international level and with respect to gender and global media. The publication comes at a critical moment for press freedom amid unprecedented opportunities for expression of new voices, as well as new forms of restriction and control.

Irina Bokova said these developments raise issues that go to the heart of UNESCO’s mandate “to promote the flow of ideas by word and image” between all peoples, across the world. For UNESCO, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that underpins all other civil liberties, that is vital for the rule of law and good governance, and that is a foundation for inclusive and open societies. Freedom of expression stands at the heart of media freedom and the practice of journalism as a form of expression aspiring to be in the public interest.

The Director-General thanked the Government of Sweden for its support to UNESCO and this Report, as a champion country for freedom of expression across the world.

H.E. Mr Mårten Grunditz, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations spoke at the opening of the Launch. The Swedish Ambassador praised the Organization for its firm stand on the need to include freedom of expression in the framework of the post-21015 development agenda. He also underlined the strong work of UNESCO in launching and undertaking the gender sensitive indicators for media.

Ambassador  Grunditz followed by the keynote speaker, Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University, a noted First Amendment scholar. Bollinger recently established the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information Project, a new initiative joining international experts and activists with the University. Professor Bollinger commended the Director-General for leading the creation of the Report on an issues that is central and "which is a very great step forward for the century". 

“I am optimistic about the freedom of expression worldwide even if the report sounds pessimistic. The mere fact that UNESCO and the international community are into monitoring and evaluating the status of the freedom of expression is a milestone. He further elaborated on the evolution of the freedom of expression in the US and the role of Universities,” said Professor Bollinger.

These interventions were followed a roundtable discussion on freedom of expression and access to information in the context of shaping the post-2105 development agenda. The roundtable was moderated Mr Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, with the participation of Karin Karlekar, Freedom House, Director of Freedom of the Press, Veni Markovksi, Vice President of Global Stakeholder Engagement, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, and Raza Rumi, a public policy specialist and noted writer and editor of several Pakistan media.

Raza Rumi shared with the audience his personal experience as a journalist and activist in Pakistan, where he was the victim of an attack by a Taliban group.

Mr Markovski presented the work of ICANN in helping preserve the operational stability of the Internet. He underlined the essential role of universities in providing people with on the basic knowledge of the internet so that they are educated users who can protect themselves.

This was followed by an open discussion with the public on a broad range of issues, including internet governance, the situation of the freedom of the press around the world, and the integration of language on freedom of the media, including on the internet, in the post-2015 development agenda.

The Launch event took place in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium at UN headquarters, with the participation of many Permanent Delegates and delegations, as well as activists, journalists and experts.