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Pacific Professionals Explore Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace

25-05-2005 (Wellington)
Exploring Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace was the focus of an internship of media and information professionals that just concluded in New Zealand. The week-long programme was sponsored by UNESCO’s Regional Office in New Delhi, India and organised by the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO.
The participants included five media and information professionals from Fiji, the Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands. During the programme, they examined freedom of expression (FOE) and freedom of information (FOI) issues in the digital world and as relating to Pacific Island countries.

In welcoming the interns to New Zealand, Laurence Zwimpfer, Deputy Chair of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, stressed UNESCO’s commitment to assisting with the development of the Internet in the Pacific. While there are still big challenges in connecting every village and every home in Pacific Island countries to the Internet, good progress is being made and it is important to pay attention to content issues as well.

“While the concept of ‘freedom of expression’ is often well understood amongst journalists and other media professionals as applied to traditional media – print, radio and television – this concept and the issues around it are not so clear when applied to the Internet,” says Ellen Strickland programme organiser from the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO.

During the programme, participants met with digital media representatives, online publishing experts and Government officials in Auckland and Wellington to identify and discuss issues relating to FOE and FOI. Legislation in the Pacific, New Zealand experience, copyright and intellectual property, international defamation lawsuits and Internet safety education were some of the topics discussed.

Seini Cega, a participant from the Pacific Island News Association, called for better training for journalists. She believes Internet Literacy for journalists in the Pacific is a critical issue. “There is still a shortage of training for journalists with a special focus on the role of the Internet,” she says.

An important part of the schedule was hands-on training in new online tools, including wiki and blogging. Participants recorded their experiences of the week and shared their views in blogs, which can be found at http://community.scriptorium.co.nz/blogs

“Freedom of expression is an important part of the World Summit on the Information Society Action Plan, which was adopted at the first Summit in Geneva in 2003,” says Abel Caine, ICT Adviser for the UNESCO Office in Apia. The WSIS Action Plan calls on Governments to develop legislation that guarantees the independence and plurality of the media while at the same time taking appropriate measures consistent with freedom of expression to combat illegal and harmful content. This internship follows an international WSIS thematic meeting on Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace, held in Paris earlier this year, which focused on these issues.
Related themes/countries

      · Freedom of Expression: News Archives 2005
      · New Zeland: News Archive
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