[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
Ms Xianhong Hu, Division of freedom of expression and media development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was the moderator of the session. She said the meeting aimed to provide a platform to discuss issues around media and social media in relation to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), by building on the findings of the 2017/2018 report of UNESCO's flagship series on world trends in freedom of expression and media development. The report explored developments at global and regional levels in media freedom, pluralism, independence, and safety, examining these through a gender-sensitive lens, with special attention given to transnational and digital media.
Ms Jyoti Hosagrahar, director, Division for Creativity of UNESCO, said the principles of Geneva Plan of Actions include cultural diversity and language aspects. In the area of artistic freedom we can see support through policies and measures to produce, create, and distribute. That also includes freedom of movement, freedom of association, as well as protection of the social and economic rights of artists. It is important to broadly recognise that no media diversity can happen without media freedom. Measures to enhance media freedom should still be adopted, including within broadcasting. Artists face attacks, killings, and other measures against them, including more and more cases of reported jailing. Lately, social media platforms have been used significantly as media screening channels. However, more cases of censorship on these platforms have been reported.
Mr Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations, European Broadcasting Union (EBU), stated that impacts on the media’s health come through different ways and tools. The most common way is to attack the safety of journalists, and measures such as jailing journalists. Mazzone mentioned the Google announcement of 2.4 million URLs being taken down from the platform, based on ‘the right to be forgotten.’ While calling for more transparency, he stated that human rights should be at the centre of all actions, and it is not something to be bargained with. It was emphasised that even if social media is working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), ‘when it comes to the media, human rights cannot be transferred to NGOs.’ Mazzone concluded by saying that the media is a watchdog of society and needs to be involved in the process: ‘the media should never be left behind in this changing world.’
Ms Anri van der Spuy, Research ICT Africa, looked into how fake news and cases such as the recent Cambridge Analytica – Facebook situation all impact developing regions. Such cases have been used as an excuse to introduce more content regulation, and often shutdowns. Spuy said that a South African government minister is on record as saying that regulation of social media has to be taken into serious account in the near future. She also reminded how other developed countries, such as Germany and France, are looking more and more into regulation and laws. She concluded that as there is a need for more data, the understanding of data is necessary in order to understand the problems, prior to talking about them.
Mr Peter Micek, Access Now, said the role of the media is crucial to democracy, but equally so are privacy and digital security. ‘Digital security is an enabler of human rights’, he said. Attacks are scaring journalists, leading them into self-censorship and away from reporting. A prominent journalist covering anti-corruption stories, was targeted via her son who received messages via malware in an attempt to gain control over his mother. Access Now started the #KeepItOn coalition to monitor and flag Internet shutdowns around the world, often happening during protests and elections. Micek reminded the audience of the impact of government pressure on platforms. For example when YouTube was under pressure to take down content in relation to atrocities in Syria, crucial human rights violation documentation was lost. If content regulation proceeds this way, the negative impacts on access to information and freedom of expression will be enormous, he claimed.
Mr Nicolas Seidler, senior policy analyst, the Internet Society, said that the ‘Global Intenet Reort 2017’ produced by the organisation has revealed concern around harassment, fake news, and hate speech taking place online, as well as the general lack of trust that people have around the world. Anxiety, fear, and mistrust around the Internet and social media seems to be pushing governments to restrictions and shutdowns. ‘Shutdowns will become mainstream if we don’t do anything about it,’ said Seidler. The report shows how governments are restricting the Internet, mostly during elections. He also mentioned that a Freedom House report found that misinformation played a big role for some governments in reaching their goals, and that governments are using the Internet and social media in different ways according to their needs. Dialogue between governments and platforms are needed, and people must be put at the centre of solutions.
By Aida Mahmutović