22 may, 2018 / By Catherine Benson Wahlén
14 May 2017: The third edition of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report titled, ‘World Trends on Freedom of Expression and Media Development,’ reflects on developments in media freedom, pluralism, independence and the safety of journalists. Participants discussed the report in concert with the Seventh Annual Meeting of the UNESCO Chairs in Communication.
The report aims to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDG target 16.10 on public access to information and fundamental freedoms. It finds that media freedom is limited by legal restrictions on the right to share both information and ideas, such as defamation, insult, blasphemy and lèse-majesté laws, with national security concerns and anti-terrorism laws curtailing freedom of expression. The number of internet shutdowns increased from 18 in 2015 to 56 in 2016, with additional increases in blocking and filtering of information. However, progress has been made on legal guarantees to seek and receive information, with the number of countries with freedom of information laws increasing from 91 in 2012 to 112 in 2016.
On media pluralism, the number of sources of information increased significantly between 2012 and 2017, but concerns remain on the concertation of ownership of media companies and internet services, suggesting a trend of increased access but narrowed choice. The report also raises concern about social media filtering, which “create[s] ‘bubbles’ in which people to do not access the truth or points of view they consider irritating or inappropriate,” as well as concerns on the dissemination of false information. Such trends result in what the report terms “polarized pluralism” in which multiple kinds of information are available but each segmented group generally accesses only a limited piece of that information.
Media independence is weakening, according to the report’s trend analysis. The report also finds that economic forces and lack of recognition by political actors have diminished journalism’s professional standards. Further, trends on the safety of journalists “remain extremely alarming,” with 530 journalists killed between 2012 and 2016, 92 percent of whom were local reporters. Killings remain high in the Arab region but have declined in the African region. The report suggests that implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalism “offers hope” with new momentum to monitor, prevent, protect and strengthen justice for crimes against journalists.
The report features a special focus on gender equality in the media, which observes that women remain under-represented. Women make up one in three reporters, one in four media decision-makers and one in five experts interviewed.
The UNESCO Chairs in Communication Annual Meeting was convened by Orbicom. It took place in Lima, Peru, from 8-9 May 2018, under the theme, ‘Communication, City and Public Spaces.’ It also celebrated World Press Freedom Day, which was observed on 3 May.