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UNESCO released its new publication of freedom of expression on Internet

01-06-2011 (Paris)
UNESCO released its new publication of freedom of expression on Internet
Publication cover
© UNESCO
“While the Internet is empowering individuals more than ever, there is an increase globally in content filtering and censorship,” this is one of key messages from the launching ceremony of the UNESCO publication, Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet.
Janis Karklins, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, chaired the ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters on 30 May 2011. Professor William Dutton, the leading author of the book and Director of Oxford Internet Institute, gave a presentation and answered questions during the meeting, which was attended by Permanent Delegates to UNESCO and representatives of civil society.

Professor Dutton highlighted in his presentation that this UNESCO-commissioned research provides a new perspective on the social and political dynamics behind the threats to expression. Through a meta-analysis of Internet filtering studies, the book shows that there is a rising level of censorship and filtering. Nevertheless, he argued against focusing too narrowly on Internet content filtering. His framework on the “ecology of freedom of expression” suggests a broader focus on six interrelated arenas that are shaping freedom of expression:

  • technical initiatives, related to connection and disconnection;
  • digital rights, including those tied directly to freedom of expression and censorship;
  • industrial policy and regulation, including intellectual property, industrial strategies, and ICTs for development;
  • measures focused on fraud, child protection, decency, libel and control of hate speech;
  • network policy and practices, including standards related to identity, and regulation of Internet service providers; and
  • security, ranging from controlling spam and viruses to protecting national security.

  • During the questions-and-answers session, the discussion focused on how to balance the right to freedom of expression with other digital rights, particularly the right to access information, taking into account a widening global digital divide. Professor Dutton suggested that it is crucial for UNESCO to strengthen its efforts to reduce digital divides as a means to support freedom of expression.

    Mr Karklins pointed out that the infrastructure building should go hand in hand with local content creation. He shared that UNESCO is co-organizing the broadband commission with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). And together with OECD and ISOC, UNESCO is conducting a study on the economic aspect of local content, which will be presented at the forthcoming Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2011.

    Regarding the issue of Internet governance, Professor Dutton made a point that nations can risk undermining the virtue of this global network of networks as an international public resource by nationalizing its Internet governance approaches. He suggested that there is a need to coordinate the global and local approaches to Internet governance in order to formulate appropriate regulatory model.

    Mr Karklins closed the meeting by thanking Professor Dutton and all participants for their contribution to this interesting discussion. However the debate on freedom of expression on Internet remains ongoing and UNESCO will keep on informing its Member States about many legal and regulatory issues related to Internet.

    To see the video of the session please click here

    The PowerPoint presentation of Professor Dutton is available here.

    The free electronic copy can be downloaded here:

    Hard copies of the publication can be purchased online or at UNESCO’s book stores.
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