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Challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression in the networked environment

Principles for a Public Interest Communications Environment

info: Submitted by Lisa Horner on Thu, 2008-05-29 16:20.

June 2008 draft


The ongoing evolution of digital networked communications technology is unleashing a raft of new opportunities to protect and expand human rights across the globe. However, significant forces are pulling in the opposite direction, threatening to close down open communication spaces and instead transform digital communications into tools of repression and control1.

Advocates of social justice have an important role to play in ensuring that the evolving communications environment supports the interests of the public rather than solely the interests of privileged and powerful minorities. The international human rights system in particular needs to respond to the challenges of the digital age and the new threats it presents to our established rights and freedoms. Human rights can, and should, lie at the heart of the regulations and institutions that govern communications systems – we need now to demonstrate how this can be achieved.

Whilst the challenges are significant, communications technologies are enhancing the ability of people from different geographical and vocational communities to work together to achieve shared objectives. Civil society organisations, academics, progressive governments and businesses need to build on this opportunity. We need new, broad coalitions to shape national and international communications environments that advance human rights and the public interest.

The Freedom of Expression Project is working towards this goal. In April 2008, a group of eight civil society organisations from across the world agreed on a set of policy principles to guide policy making and activity within networked communications environments . This document outlines these principles, and is intended to act as a starting point for discussion amongst civil society, government and business stakeholders. Through this process, we hope to build the foundations for the broad coalitions that are needed to construct public interest communications environments2.

We welcome comments on this draft and will endeavour to incorporate them into future drafts.


1 The international conversations and research carried out under phase one of the Freedom of Expression Project demonstrated the scale and significance of the changes that are taking place. See the Project research section for more information

2 We would like to thank all of the individuals and groups who have fed into the process of developing these principles, both through the Freedom of Expression Project workshops and individual consultations.