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Fostering Freedom of Expression

  „If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear“ George Orwel

A fundamental characteristic of modern democratic states is the existence of the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by the public authority. The right to freedom of expression is not only a primary cornerstone of democracy, but also prerequisite for the enjoyment of many of the other rights and freedoms. Freedom of expression is thus a natural right, which a human being acquires on birth. It is, therefore, a basic right. "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers" proclaims the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (1948). The international community has recognised freedom of expression as one of the most important human rights. 

As the United Nations agency with a specific mandate to promote “the free flow of ideas by word and image”, UNESCO works to foster free, independent and pluralistic media in print, broadcast and online. Media development in this mode enhances freedom of expression, and it contributes to peace, sustainability, poverty eradication and human rights.

UNESCO promotes policies for press freedom and the safety of journalists, it supports independent journalism based on professional ethics and self-regulatory principles. The fundamental right of the freedom of press implicit in the right the freedom of speech and expression, is essential for the political liberty and proper functioning of democracy. Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse and  any attempt to suffocate this right would sound a death knell to democracy and would help usher in autocracy or dictatorship.

For UNESCO, pluralistic and diverse media provides information options so that the public can make good choices. This is why today UNESCO also helps to build community media in particular, and why it fosters gender equity in the media.  In order to empower individuals as informed producers and consumers of information, UNESCO has initiatives in media and information literacy and in journalism education. The media is a watchdog for the society, and its job is to keep the nation informed, entertained and educated, it has to do anything in its power to be there for the society and preserve it.

However, it is not impossible to assume that freedom of expression may cause harm to others and if it is not controlled properly, can lead to conflict situations. Censorship is the change in the access status of material, made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include: exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level change.  Censorship has restricted newspapers, television, radio, etc. by not allowing them the right to free speech. 

One of the main controversies that has been debated is the right to censor media. Radio and television programs are being subjected to governmental control in order keep programs inoffensive to the public.  Is this infringing on the right to freedom of speech?Nevertheless, censorship is taking primarily technological forms. Since messages flow on the Internet at speeds vastly surpassing any human's capabilities to understand or process, technology is being developed that attempts to censor Internet content.  Not only has this been thoroughly deliberated in the media, but since technological increases have given rise to the Internet, a new dilemma has evolved: 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? 

Furthermore, with the current situation at the international scene, multilateralism is facing difficult times and along with it, the freedom to expression. There's nothing fundamentally new about the term „fake news“. Fake news is a type propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Disinformation and fake news played (and still plays) a crucial role in the some of the world’s biggest conflicts, and the use of false stories as a cyberwarfare tactic is a real threat. 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?

To conclude, with the rapid advancement of technology, it is crucial to adapt and foster the freedom of expression now more than ever. This is because freedom of expression is considered, among other things, as an essential element of democracy itself – in order for members of a democracy to deliberate properly about what the law should be requires free and open exchange of different ideas and opinions.