Joint declaration urges governments to safeguard freedom of expression
04 May 2013

The four international freedom of expression rapporteurs kicked things off by launching a joint declaration encouraging states to safeguard freedom of expression against commercial and political interests during the global transition from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting, Brian Pellot reports from UNESCO’s 20th annual World Press Freedom Day conference.

© IWMFEthiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu wins 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

© IWMFEthiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu wins 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

The OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović said the digital switchover is often portrayed as being merely a technical issue of frequency allocation, but that its implications for freedom of expression are great and that new spectrum should be used to enhance minority voices and to democratise access to information.

UNESCO’s Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development Guy Berger desribed a concept he termed internet universality based on freedom of expression, privacy, openness, accessibility and multi-stakeholderism. Borrowing from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, he said the internet must be of the people, by the people and for the people to function properly.

I asked Berger how freedom of expression and privacy should be reconciled when issues around anonymity and the right to be forgotten come into play. He said the most important part of this balancing act is the process, which must be proportionate and transparent so as not to violate one fundamental right in an effort to serve another. On the same panel, Nicolas Seidler from the Internet Society in Switzerland said that individual citizens must fulfil their vital role in the multi-stakeholder process by fighting governments and corporations to ensure the internet remains a free and open space.

A second panel focused on the role of intermediary organisations in protecting freedom of expression online. Eduardo Bertoni, who leads an initiative for online free speech in Argentina, said that service providers, search engines and web hosts all have different responsibilities for free speech online. There are no clear international standards for intermediaries to follow, but the special rapporteurs’ Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet suggests instances in which intermediaries should be immune or liable for their users’ behaviour.

Bob Boorstin, Director of Public Policy & Government Relations at Google, said that intermediaries should serve as platforms, protectors, advocates and educators of users’ rights and responsibilities online. He added that takedown procedures should err on the side of freedom of expression in protecting users when possible. Fabiola Carrion who works on policy at Access Now said that individuals should encourage their service providers and other intermediaries to issue regular transparency reports, which Google, Twitter, Microsoft and others already do.

A non-online highlight of the day was the awarding of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu. Alemu was arrested in June 2011 for reporting critically on poverty, politics and gender equality in her country. The widow of slain Colombian journalist Cano for whom the prize is named placed a ceremonial medal on Alemu’s portrait as a friend accepted the award on her behalf and read a message pleading for those in the crowd to help end attacks, imprisonment and impunity against journalists.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter (along with the hashtags #wpfd and #pressfreedom) as I report on the rest of the conference, and check Index’s site for highlights from the final day in San José.

World Press Freedom Day

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One response to “Joint declaration urges governments to safeguard freedom of expression”

  1. EU practices double standards in civil rights. It’s freakish for EU to interfere in the civil rights of foreigners, but condone the abuse of civil rights of Greek dissident bloggers, who are citizens of EU! There is no justice in Greece for dissident bloggers. The Greek government is so stupid, so brutal, so freakish, and so barbarous that it robs, persecutes, and terrorizes dissident bloggers! The Greek government is a major enemy of blogosphere.
    Ex officio law suit (αυτεπαγγελτος) means the state sues somebody without involvement of the accuser. This terrible scheme has been used by Graecokleptocrats to persecute dissident bloggers. A Graecokleptocrat would sue an innocent dissident blogger, and the Graecokleptocrat wouldn’t show up in court, because the state takes over the position of the accuser!

    The court trial is postponed infinite times to break the nerves of the innocent blogger at great cost of time and money. This is a disgusting punishment of the presumed innocent. Justice delayed is justice denied. Justice perpetuated is hell. The Greek government uses the ex officio law suit as a political tool.

    Correspondents of report that agony of perpetual delay of trial in Greece is being used as a punishment of the innocent without trial. Greek justice is a spider web, catching small prey and swallowing them, while allowing crocodiles to penetrate and dominate it. Visiting Greek prisons, you could see all les miserables that fill them up, but you could not find any kleptocrats.

    Giving cybercensorship to blogbusters is giving gin to alcoholics! Blogbusters galore! Freak! Freak! Freak! The freakish government of Greece, the most corrupt country in Europe, steals computers! Robbing dissident bloggers and locking them in jail is a freakish behavior that does not belong to the European Union, not even to this galaxy! No wonder some vain Greeks boast they come from Andromeda galaxy!

    The persecution of Greek dissident bloggers is a worrying example of how freedom on the net is under increasing threat. As more people use cyberspace to communicate, obtain information, express their views, socialize, and conduct commerce, governments are stepping up their efforts to regulate and control it. Tight control on the internet impinges on our freedom of speech, association and assembly. And it means that violations of other civil rights are kept away from us.