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 » UNESCO promotes World Trends Report to communications scholars
02.08.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO promotes World Trends Report to communications scholars

Academic assessors: LtR: Peter Ngangum, Sallie Hughes, Reeta Poyhtari, Jennifer Cate Coyer, and Anne Mollen. © UNESCO

An in-depth panel discussion at an international conference last week drew the attention of media academics to the latest UNESCO report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development – Special Digital Focus 2015.

The occasion was one of three events organized by UNESCO at the conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, held in Leicester UK.

UNESCO director for Freedom of Expression, Guy Berger, introduced the session, saying “It is UNESCO’s ambition to see the Report become a prominent flagship internationally, building upon existing success in this study being referenced in UN resolutions and academic scholarship”.

After a summary of the contents of the Report by UNESCO associate expert Reeta Pöyhtäri, four discussants commented on the Report’s chapters.

How the Report deals with online hate speech, was assessed by Anne Mollen of Universität Bremen, Germany, who commended the work for pointing out the complexities of identifying “hate speech”. She also pointed to difficulties in expecting counter-speech to succeed in contexts of high polarisation, and to the ascendancy of emotional arguments.

Peter Tiako Ngangum, Universite Libre Bruxelles, Belgium discussed the chapter on the protection of journalism sources. He welcomed the analysis but challenged UNESCO to turn the chapter’s recommendations into reality, as well as noting that digital technology was not widespread in many African newsrooms.

The chapter on the role of Internet intermediaries was analysed by Kate Coyer, Director of the Civil Society and Technology Project, Center for Media, Data and Society, Central European University, Hungary. She highlighted the context of state power in order to understand the role played by these companies in mediating expression, adding that having a corporate policy could enable push-back against arbitrary restraints.

She praised transparency, while acknowledging that it was not a substitute for accountability. A member of the audience asked about whether there was not also a case for a degree of opacity in order to protect human rights in some instances.

Discussion also touched on whether companies enlisting the audience for the policing of speech was stimulating a “snitch culture”.

In regard to the chapter on the safety of journalists, more work could be done to define and conceptualise the topic, said Sallie Hughes, Associate Professor, University of Miami, USA. She urged greater analysis of data in order to generate knowledge, and for more visibility.

Jennifer R. Henrichsen, researcher at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, outlined the plans to mentor scholars from the South during the research for the 3rd World Trends Report which will be published in 2017.

The Report is being compiled by the Universities of Oxford (UK) and the Witwatersrand (South Africa), who won a bid to conduct the research for this edition.

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