July 10, 2019

International community finally alarmed by online threats denounced by RSF

The control that private-sector companies exercise over the Internet poses a major threat to freedom of expression, four international special rapporteurs said in a joint declaration today as a two-day Media Freedom Conference got under way in London. The views they expressed are very similar to the positions taken by the international initiative on Information and Democracy that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launched in November 2018.

Released for the start of the London conference, which is being organized by the British and Canadian governments, this “Twentieth Anniversary Joint Declaration” was issued by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Désir; the Organization of American States’ special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Edison Lanza; and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information, Laurence Mute. 


By recognizing the power that private corporations exercise over the online environment and the threat this poses to free speech, the Joint Declaration echoes the Information and Democracy initiative that RSF launched last November. Formulated by an internationally renowned commission, the initiative calls on all stakeholders, including governments and platforms, to work with civil society in developing new guarantees and solutions for reliable and pluralistic information in the digital age.


“The disinformation that prevents citizens from taking informed decisions, the algorithmic bubbles that undermine pluralism, and the unfair competition between content that conforms to journalistic ideals on the one hand, and propaganda and rumour on the other – these all pose challenges to freedom of opinion and expression,” said Christophe Deloire, who is RSF’s secretary-general and co-chair of the International Commission on Information and Democracy. “They have emerged at the same time as the opportunities provided by the online economy, as this important declaration points out."


Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, the Commission’s co-chair, also welcomed the new awareness emerging in London. “This is the moment to emphasize the technological disruptions affecting the global information and communication space, including the changes in media business models or the danger of shutting oneself within certain kinds of content on online platforms,” Ebadi said. “We are pleased to see that the international community is now beginning to talk about the subjects that we have been raising for months.”


Thomas Friang, the head of RSF’s advocacy department, said: “RSF’s initiative creates an enabling environment in which all stakeholders can work together to find concrete responses to the phenomena that can jeopardize the timeless principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration adds to the support of the 12 governments that we brought into this initiative in November 2018.”


The joint declaration has come at a good time. It insists on the importance of independent monitoring and control by civil society stakeholders and confirms the importance of the Information and Democracy initiative ahead of the G7 summit due to be held in Biarritz from 24 to 26 August, and the next UN General Assembly in New York in September.


The Information and Democracy initiative launched by RSF began a diplomatic process. Now backed by an alliance of 20 democratic governments, it aims to develop an international partnership and a civil society forum tasked with its implementation.