FoE logoThe Freedom of Expression Project

Challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression in the networked environment

About the Project

info: Submitted by anna on Thu, 2006-10-12 13:43.

Why it began

The Freedom of Expression Project began as a response to the massive changes taking place in global communications.

Digital networks are evolving, based around the internet and mobile phones. Concentration of ownership in transnational media industries is increasing. At the same time, rights and freedoms are being eroded, often as a result of the ‘global war on terror’. There are both new challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression.

We set out to assess the impacts of these changes and to understand the developing environment’s relationships with democracy, justice and human achievement. We began to develop international civil society networks to share knowledge and to advance policy and advocacy for progressive change.

Click here to download a Summary brief of the Project, its aims, programme of work and progress .

Project partners and the global network

Nearly 200 people from 36 countries became part of the Project’s thinking and its growing network during the first phase of work. We brought together the expertise of human rights activists, technology developers, consumer rights groups, communications regulators, business innovators, broadcasters, NGOs, journalists, policy makers, researchers, e-government experts and academics.

The Freedom of Expression Project Network

The Freedom of Expression Project Network

The project is now being steered by six organisations in the global south, working in partnership with Global Partners and Associates:

Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles, Argentina

Bytes for All, Pakistan

Combine Resource Institution, Indonesia

Consumers Union, USA

Media Foundation for West Africa, Ghana

RITS, Brazil

Twaweza Communications, Kenya

Phase 2: Our current work - From exploration to shaping policy

Drawing on the learning from Phase 1 of the project (2006-2007), we are presently working to identify:

  • a set of common values shared by all stakeholders as the foundation for a public interest communications environment, grounded in internationally recognised human rights
  • policy principles that express and realise these values in communications environments
  • how stakeholders can work together to implement and make real the policy principles. We are carrying out geographically specific research to define the factors that undermine or uphold the principles in different contexts, exploring the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholder groups and exploring the levers for change.

Phase 1: Key findings

Our current work is based on findings from the first phase of the project which ran from July 2006 to December 2007. We reviewed and evaluated current research, commissioned fresh analysis, consulted with experts in relevant fields and held a series of regional workshops to test the Project’s thinking.

Read the headline findings below, or click to download a Summary brief or detailed Phase 1 report.

  • New communications networks are transformative and disruptive. They are radically changing how we communicate with each other. This has the potential to be interactive and empowering, but there needs to be urgent action if this is to be the case.
  • The mobile phone is emerging as the dominant platform – likely to be a key means of receiving and imparting content in the future.
  • Evidence shows that the creation of communication capacity in itself is a ‘good’: it’s impossible to predict the imaginative uses people make of technology.
  • Policy spheres are converging as digital technologies bring previously separate communication platforms together. There’s an urgent need for advocates of free expression to participate actively in the ongoing revision of governance frameworks and regulatory policies, to ensure that human rights and public interest values are integral to them.
  • Stakeholders in the converged communications environment tend to operate in separate realms of knowledge and expertise. It’s important to break down barriers in civil society and encourage collaboration between human rights, technology, democracy, academic and media activists and professionals. The aim is for all to share knowledge and work together to shape a communications environment that protects human rights.
  • Governance of this emerging environment is complex, as its many stakeholders have varied needs and interests. All stakeholders – government, business and civil society – need to be involved in defining appropriate regulatory frameworks, and where relevant in implementing and maintaining them.
  • In civil society, government and the media, many organisations are not yet harnessing the full potential of networked communications. New technologies can require fundamental changes in how they organise and operate (e.g. moving from ‘gatekeeping’ to ‘curating’ information).
  • The existing international human rights framework can protect and promote rights in the networked environment. We now need to:
    • clarify how communication rights - such as access to knowledge and information - fit with international human rights and ensure that they are protected in national and international law
    • develop a set of principles or means of linking new issues, such as the need for network neutrality and interoperability, to the international human rights system
    • assess whether existing human rights enforcement mechanisms are adequate to protect human rights in the networked communications environment.