Africa: Unesco Highlights Freedom of Expression, Media Development in New Report

"Tectonic shifts" in technology are having mixed results for freedom of expression and media development - sparking unprecedented creativity and dialogue, while also ushering in increased use of censorship policies and measures that do not comply with international norms - the United Nations cultural agency reports in a study being launched today at Headquarters.

The report, World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development was released in March but is officially being launched at a special event today in New York with Irina Bokova, Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Mårten Grunditz, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN, alongside representatives of academia and civil society.

"We need to act on the ground - to strengthen national legislative frameworks, to train journalists, to build capacity and advance media and information literacy," said Ms. Bokova ahead of today's event. "We must continue to support media independence by promoting professional standards and self-regulation."

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.

It hails the opportunities that new technologies have opened up, empowering individuals through unprecedented ways to access, produce and share media content across multiple platforms. It warns, however, that 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 UNESCO.

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.

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