Three reports presenting world trends and current findings within media development and freedom of expression were released by UNESCO in late 2019.
Following the digitalisation of societies, opportunities to seek, impart and receive information have increased, a development that in many ways enables a more open and democratic public debate.
But there are also challenges following this progress. The three In Focus reports, presented at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in November 2019, monitor and analyse emerging issues related to media development or freedom of expression.
Access to Information
Access to Information: A New Promise for Sustainable Development focuses on Access to Information (ATI) laws and their implementation. Democratisation of political systems favouring transparency have led to an increase of freedom of information laws in many countries, an advancement toward the 16th Sustainable Development Goal. Since 2013, the number of ATI laws have increased by 31, to a total of 125.
While digitalising the public domain has been a positive force for increasing opportunities, new challenges emerge, for example, concerning data collection, protection of personal data and uncertainties regarding the impact of algorithms and AI. Solutions balancing the right to access to information and the right to privacy need to be found.
Elections and Media in Digital Times
The impact of new developments on electoral processes are dealt with in the report Elections and Media in Digital Times. Different trends in the information and media system converge in elections. Following greater opportunities to find and share (political) information and ideas comes greater possibilities of also sharing disinformation and propaganda. Public debate is taking place more and more online. Digitally enabled tactics or business models may disrupt the democratic processes.
Thus, effective strategies are needed to adapt to changes following digitalisation to safeguard an inclusive public debate, voting integrity and free and fair elections. Based on research of academic literature and regulatory and policy development, the report identifies trends from around the world.
Intensified Attacks, New Defences
Essential to ATI and freedom of expression is the safety of journalists. The report Intensified Attacks, New Defences: Developments in the Fight to Protect Journalists and End Impunity presents a study covering the years 2014–2018 with information from member states and international NGOs on the status of threats and abuses towards journalists. Among the findings an increased prevalence of digital threats and harassment towards journalists can be seen.
During the five-year period, there has also been a changing nature of violence against journalists. The number of journalists killed outside of conflict zones were found to be greater than reporters in regions of war, and more journalists were silenced for reporting on issues of corruption, crime and politics.
However, a growing commitment on the national and global level to set up monitoring, protection, prevention and prosecution mechanisms for the safety of journalists are also reported.
About UNESCO World Trend Report: The In Focus report series presents stepping stones towards the main edition of the World Trend Report, which is published every four years. The next edition is expected in late 2021. They were made possible by financial support from Sweden through SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency).