New curbs on free expression have surfaced with new technologies – UN

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. Photo: UNESCO

25 March 2014 – While technological progress and innovative business models have expanded opportunities for freedom expression, they have also allowed for new threats to emerge in the form of Internet censorship, filtering, blocking, and surveillance, warns the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Freedom of expression is essential to dignity, dialogue, democracy and sustainable development,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, appealing for renewed commitment to support press freedom at the launch of the report in Stockholm earlier today.

“We need to act on the ground – to strengthen national legislative frameworks, to train journalists, to build capacity and advance media and information literacy. We must continue to support media independence by promoting professional standards and self-regulation,” she said.

The report, World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, hails the opportunities that new technologies have opened up, empowering individuals through unprecedented ways to access, produce and share media content across multiple platforms.

But at the same time, UNESCO warns in a press release, “the increasing control of online content by Internet intermediaries, such as search engines and social media networks, threatens transparency in the free flow of information and raises concerns about the “privatization of censorship.”

According to the report, journalists and online media actors face new threats related to their safety in the digital sphere.

With a special focus on global media and the gender dimensions of press freedom, the study was spearheaded by UNESCO, in partnership with an advisory group of 27 international experts from civil society and academia and with the support of the Government of Sweden. It analyses trends in media freedom worldwide since 2007 from four angles: freedom, pluralism, independence and the safety of journalists.

The report reveals that despite the continued economic dominance of a handful of companies in both traditional and online media, the vast expansion of information sources and platforms has positively impacted media pluralism. Nonetheless, press freedom “lost momentum in some regions that have experienced political transitions,” and the laws meant to protect it have not always been effectively implemented, UNESCO warns, adding that “direct and self-censorship remain challenges to journalists worldwide.”

Furthermore, while new business models have facilitated the emergence of independent reporters, for example through non-profit investigative journalistic organizations, the report denounces that “State or public advertising continue to affect independent reporting.”

The study applauds the growing awareness of the importance of journalists’ safety throughout the world since 2007, due in large part to the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

However, the number of journalist killings has continued to rise. According to UNESCO’s data, 430 journalists were killed between 2007 and 2012, including 23 women, who face rising forms of intimidation and abuse, including sexual assault. Although conflict zones remain the most dangerous places for journalists, between 2007 and 2011 more were killed outside of these areas, and impunity for these crimes remains the norm, the report notes.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UNESCO chief pays tribute to Afghan journalist killed in hotel attack

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews