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FOSTERING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” (Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Freedom of expression represents right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing and other forms of communication, but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. Being one of the fundamental human rights, freedom of expression is an essential tool for the efficiency in modern democratic society. Almost all the ways in which we can express ourselves, regardless of the tone of our message, are protected by freedom of expression. It is considered to be a primary and ingrained law that is threatened with the development of society.

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Since its foundation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has placed freedom of expression and press freedom at the core of its mission. Indeed, its Constitution calls on the UNESCO Member States to ‘collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of all peoples, through all means of mass communication’. Being the only specialized agency within the United Nations with a mandate to ‘promote the free flow of ideas by word and image’, UNESCO works on promoting press freedom and media development through: advocacy and awareness-raising, capacity-building, supporting media law, enabling regulatory frameworks and especially underlining journalistic safety as a fundamental precondition for achieving democracy and freedom of expression. The Organization also works on raising the awareness of the importance of achieving gender equality in the media.

UNESCO's special focus and main goals is to empower citizens to understand the functions of media and all other information providers, to be informed and to make informed decisions. Also, UNESCO works closely with a wide range of partners at the global, regional and national levels. With the partnership with governments, other intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, private sector companies, foundations and media organizations, UNESCO will continue to be at the forefront of global efforts to foster an environment where media can work freely and in safety, especially when it has been achieved in the face of danger.

Although there has been an improvement over the years, the topic of the freedom of expression has come back to ‘the spotlight’ since the number of journalists losing their lives is rapidly increasing. Many journalists have sacrificed their lives just because they wanted to share with the world the truth behind governmental and other kinds of propaganda.

Furthermore, vulnerable topics of terrorism, extremism and prevention of the national security are central-focused topics of UNESCO Committee. Without the freedom to criticize, question and challenge the dominant narrative, societies arelosing the opportunity to make at least somewhat a progress. The expansion of the news media content, internet, online-search, radio and television programs,enables more peopleto participate in information production and news flows.

Disinformation of public is mainly caused by media landscape, and the media is not protected regarding the hate speech. Hate speech is a punishable offense (and it is also any form of incitement)as the spreading or justification of hate and violence against an individual or a group of people based on certain attributes, such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, beliefs or health condition undermines the value of Article 14 (right not to be discriminated against).

Knowing how critical for development and dialogues the freedom of expression is, UN and UNESCO are taking measurements, educating member states on key issues and resisting attempts to restrict freedom of expression. In the period of time when all the information is readily available it’s crucial that the rights and the laws in the world are adapted so that everyone has their freedom of speech, access to accurate information and ability to share their views with others.

  1. Should the Internet be regulated and restricted by government in order to protect citizens, or does this abridge an individual’s right to free expression? 
  2. Is governmental control of radio and television programs (in order to keep programs inoffensive to the public) infringing on the right to freedom of speech?
  3. In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by false actors and events, harassment, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust?

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