Press Freedom meets Internet issues

While the Internet is a global entity, state actors are increasingly shaping how it operates in a national context.

To help orientate national policies so the Internet can be configured to help achieve sustainable development, UNESCO is working on indicators that could pinpoint evidence for mapping the key related areas.

Experts commented on this initiative during a special session during the World Press Freedom Day global conference, held in Ghana, Accra over 2-3 May, 2018.

Speakers included Juliette Nanfuka of CIPESA; Karin Karlekar of PEN America’s free expression at risk programme, and Kwami Ahiabenu II founder and president of PenPlusBytes.

UNESCO’s draft Internet Universality indicators cover five categories summarised in the acronym R-O-A-M – pointing to the extent to which the Internet is aligned to human Rights (R), Openness (O), and Accessibility to all (A); and nurtured by Multistakeholder participation (M).

The links between the four different areas are important, said Nanfuka, adding that they could be more oriented from a grassroots perspective – moving from an abstract level to more concrete concerns. She also expressed concern about some countries introducing licences for online publishing, and noted that questions of affordability impacted severely on the accessibility of media.

Responding, UNESCO’S director for freedom of expression and media development, Guy Berger stated that these kinds of issues could be effectively mapped and assessed through applying the indicators, even though it was important to keep the indicators at level of international generality so that they could serve different countries.

For his part, Ahiabenu II said that to be effective, the internet indicators needed to take into account how rural people experienced the Internet. “Can they be tied to what people can feel and touch?” he queried.

Berger replied that the process of data gathering for the indicators could help educate people about the Internet.  For instance, in canvassing people’s views, it could be necessary to ordinary users about the risks to privacy posed by the multiple levels of third party actors who can access individuals’ electronic communications.

Ahiabenu II expressed a belief that journalists could become interested actors in steering committees to oversee the formulation of Internet policies. He also proposed that the indicators should consider producing a ranking system for countries.

Berger clarified that the indicators were not designed for for cross-country comparisons, but to identify gaps for possible interventions within a single country. However, they could serve to assess national progress if they were repeated after some years within the same country, he noted.

Karlekar urged more attention be given to the role of Internet companies in the indicators, given that they were also holders of significant data which could inform Internet-related policies.

Berger replied that UNESCO hoped these actors would support research using the indicators, in order to help the resulting reports to avoid a knowledge vacuum that might lead to bad policy being adopted.

The Accra Declaration, adopted at the end of the World Press Freedom conference, urged UNESCO to: “Promote Internet Universality and related indicators for an Internet that is characterised by human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder participation (the ROAM principles).”