In 2011, the focus of the World Press Freedom Day is on the potential of the Internet and digital platforms as well as the more established forms of journalism in contributing to freedom of expression, democratic governance, and sustainable development. The occasion will also serve to call on Member States to reaffirm and implement their international commitments to guarantee and promote freedom of expression on the Internet and to remind civil society organizations, individuals, and other relevant stakeholders of their central part in furthering the Internet as a global public resource.
Twenty years after the call for the establishment of World Press Freedom Day, the arrival of the digital revolution—the evolution of the Internet, the emergence of new forms of media, and the rise of online social networks—has reshaped the media landscape and made “the press” of 2011 something that those gathered in Windhoek in 1991 could not have imagined.
It is well recognized that the growth of the Internet has greatly expanded the ability of individuals, groups, and others to enhance their freedom of expression and their rights to seek, receive and impart information as recognized by international human rights standards. Specifically, new media platforms have made it possible for almost any citizen to communicate to a large audience; for example, bloggers around the world are challenging authorities, exposing corruption, and expressing their opinions via the Internet. These new frontiers of media have enriched news and information resources and reshaped what has been traditionally the realm of print press, broadcasters, and news agencies.
However, even as new frontiers are being forged by these 21st century media, new barriers and new attempts to block, filter, and censor information are being created. At the same time, the proliferation of the Internet, social networks, and new-generation mobile telephony raises new concerns related to privacy and security of the users.
New Frontiers of News Media
<p>Internet-based applications, particularly the emergence of social networks, user-generated content, and micro-blogging have enabled nearly every Internet user to be a potential broadcaster with the ability to rapidly create, modify, and share digital content and knowledge with millions of other users both locally and globally.
<p>These changes introduce new patterns of communication, break down country borders, and create new forms of creative expression, journalism, and participation.
This unprecedented decentralization of information brought by the Internet has empowered citizens to access information, express themselves, and participate in public debate more than ever. Even in areas where Internet penetration is low, citizens are using mobile phones to send information via text messages to local radio stations, which are still the dominant news media in many parts of the world. Using micro-blogging via cellphones and other such Internet tools, political dissidents under repressive regimes have been able to let the outside world know what is actually happening in their countries.
Nevertheless, we must be cognizant of the fact that how individuals can be empowered to produce quality content and gain the necessary media and information literacy in this newer and more complex information environment remains a challenge.
Food for Thought:
How to promote Internet and social networks as a platform for democratic discussion and civic participation?
How to empower bloggers and individual users in content production and meaningful participation to enrich citizen’s access to information and exchange of ideas? How to enhance media and information literacy of readers, listeners, and viewers; how to help them learn to find the information they need and critically evaluate the information? What is the role of traditional media in authenticating or verifying information distributed via social networks? How to empower marginalized communities to access information through digital communications tools including mobile phones?
Would more traditional media and information literacy approach suffice in this digital age to adequately empower users?
<h1>A Legal and Regulatory Perspective</h1>
Historically, telecommunication, broadcasting, and other media were separate industry segments; they used different technologies and were governed by different regulations. The recent convergence of communications is dissolving established barriers, not only between professional journalists and citizens using the new tools, but also in the legal and regulatory environment.However, the legal system has been slow to adjust to the changes caused by the convergence of telecommunication and broadcasting (including public service broadcasting) and the merger of broadband operators and Internet service providers. Various policies and approaches exist on privacy and freedom of expression including industrial policy and regulation such as copyright, user-centric approaches related to child protection policy, fraud, defamation and hate speech, net-centric policies linking to domain names, and security policy in terms of privacy and freedom of expression. How do we employ these existing mechanisms to better protect freedom of expression in the age of digital communications? If the existing mechanisms are inadequate, what should be done? The human rights organization, Article 19, recently pointed out that Internet intermediaries play a key role in facilitating the connections between the providers of information and the users. Today, they are the new postal service, telephone network, local newspaper, and broadcast station. But how they are addressed by civil society and governments is not yet clearly established, and consequently freedom of expression is often being unduly limited.“[The] Internet is not tidy. It is complex. Everyone is both a data subject and a data controller,” said Richard Allan from the online social portal, Facebook, during the recent Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2010. This new relationship set up by social networks can raise critical legal challenges: for governments to enforce laws, which can limit freedom of speech; for Internet companies to protect privacy and develop standards in an online environment; for users, and especially for young people, to know how to protect their privacy and free speech.
Food for Thought:
What are legal and human rights implications of social networks on freedom of expression, privacy, and personal data protection? How to protect bloggers and users’ right to freedom of expression on the Internet and social networks? How to find applicable standards and legislation and share good practices on privacy protection? What is the role of Internet service providers/web hosting companies? Are they neutral bystanders? And how to treat conflict of jurisdiction created by the trans-border nature of the web and social networks? Which effect does the new convergence of media have on the enabling environment for freedom of expression?
<h1>New Trends of Journalism</h1>
<p>The rise of the Internet and other digital media pose a particular challenge for traditional news outlets including print and broadcasting. In many parts of the world, newspaper sales have declined since the early 2000s, and some have opted only to have electronic versions of their publications. While digital media and its myriad applications offer traditional publishers new channels for distributing content to a wider audience, increased revenues have not followed. The three most common revenue models for online news remain subscriptions, advertising, and donations. Each comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Journalism is a public good, but who will pay for it in the future? In the past, the media markets in many countries have enjoyed both private and public funding. The big media houses, generally run by private companies, are the media outlets that offer general international and national news, but these are the ones facing economic pressures from the rise of digital media.
Today, targeted niche markets, such as science, business, and sports, often deliver the profits media owners seek—as do sensationalist, populist, and biased news. What are the new business models going forward? The use of the Internet as a major information source raises important questions on the future funding of media, on the need for journalists’ unions to examine their strategies for organizing a new work force in journalism, and on ways of building new partnerships with citizens in order to defend press freedom.
It is no secret that journalism is undergoing a shift: “We don’t own the media anymore,” said the director of the BBC World Service and Global News division back in 2005. Media owners and managers face some great challenges in adjusting to the new digital world: to continue to fund newsrooms staffed by professional journalists or to rely on blogs and other user-generated content. One of the challenges includes the continuity of funding of investigative journalism which traditionally has been supported by well-established media companies. Will this modality be affected by the increased reliance of individual digital media users?
Finding the balance between generating profits in a new business environment—while holding on to the well-established journalistic standards and maintaining editorial independence—has emerged as one of the most pressing and urgent issues facing journalism in the digital age.
Food for Thought
Will technological development hurt journalistic integrity as a whole? Will news quality and reliability suffer, since anyone can become a reporter? How to ensure that journalism remains independent of political and commercial interference and influence in the face of changing revenue models? Are there possible alternative funding models in addition to advertising, subscriptions, and donations? Do digital media and traditional news media have a competing or mutually complementary relationship? What would be needed to create an enabling environment for synergy between the two? How will traditional forms of media continue to be relevant in the Internet era? How will journalists working in traditional print and broadcast media employ new tools in their reporting and the distribution of their news content?
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), nearly 2 billion people—over one-quarter of the world’s population—use the Internet. Its advent has substantially changed the media landscape and information flows. With its participatory capabilities, the Internet has opened new horizons for freedom of expression, and this trend is most likely to continue in the future.
One of the most widespread uses of the Internet is blogging. The number of blogs worldwide increased from 22 million in 2005 to more than 100 million by 2010. Among the most distinct features of blogs are their decentralized nature and the speed at which information is disseminated. Lacking established forms of gate-keeping, such as editors or pre-determined professional standards, bloggers are able to publish information quickly. Furthermore, being decentralized, bloggers are sometimes better positioned to report first-hand accounts of an event happening locally than are the big news agencies.
Bloggers also face some of the same risks and threats as professional journalists, as accounts of the arrests of bloggers, the filtering of content, and the disconnection of users has made clear. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that in 2008, for the first time, there were more jailed “online reporters,” such as bloggers, than traditional media journalists. As individual or freelancing bloggers continue to become a staple of news media, there is a need to provide protection to bloggers who perform the same responsibilities and face the same risks as professional journalists.
At the same time, the growth of the Internet has also notably increased governments’ surveillance power, creating new threats to professional news media and citizens, as well as raising concerns over the difficulty of guaranteeing free and unhindered flow of information. Popular social networking and micro-blogging sites, while giving ordinary users a voice, can also be used by governments to identify and locate or even arrest citizens. As a 2010 UNESCO-commissioned report, Freedom of Connection—Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet, has shown, with growing access to information in cyberspace, the rise of censorship and filtering can be carried out not only by governments but also by private entities. The ability of powerful entities, both government and non-governmental, to use digital media platforms to the disadvantage of free press also has implication on investigative journalism. Investigative journalism, long held as the epitome of the watchdog function of the fourth estate, has normally enjoyed strong protection especially in mature media markets. It is a powerful instrument to counter any attempt to mantle the truth through unveiling of matters that are concealed either deliberately by someone in a position of power, or accidentally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances—and expose them to the public. In this way, investigative journalism contributes crucially to freedom of expression and freedom of information. Will investigative journalism prosper or be weakened by the profusion of digital media?
Food for Thought
How are governments using digital tools to track down and arrest or silence bloggers? How can citizen reporters protect themselves and evade censorship and surveillance?<br />• How are organizations dedicated to the defense and protection of journalists and freedom of expression affected by the rise of digital media? Are they operating any differently now than they were 20 years ago? • All over the world, journalists continue to be subjected to physical attacks, murders, and imprisonment. What do trends show? • Many countries have criminal libel and insult laws. Are they being used to prosecute professional and citizen reporters? Do they lead to self-censorship among news organizations?