The battle for freedom of expression online: Where are the journalists?

As threats to freedom of expression online continue to grow, journalists need to get more involved in shaping the digital future of our global media ecosystem.

Online surveillance, phishing, and content blocking is familiar territory for most journalists who uncover corruption, misuse of power, or who report on human rights abuses. Although their rights to freedom of expression and privacy online are challenged on a near-daily basis, however, few journalists are actively involved in the struggle to reclaim those rights.

Next week, Geneva hosts the annual Internet Governance Forum, a multi-stakeholder conference that deals with issues of profound importance to how journalists and news media outlets operate, including issues such as censorship, intermediary liability, and internet shutdowns as well as infrastructural and standards-setting discussions that affect the plurality and security of the online environment.

Together with the Center for International Media Assistance, IMS is organising a meeting at IGF to see how we can get more journalists involved in discussing the issues that affect them, especially those which have a negative impact on press freedom and citizens’ right to access to information. You can read more about the meeting here.

Getting more journalists on board in internet governance is important not only because they are affected by it, but also because the credibility and legitimacy of the multi-stakeholder internet governance model needs to improve. For that to happen, it is critical that media – in particular those from the Global South who are often disproportionately affected by efforts to limit free speech – get involved in internet governance.

Making the multi-stakeholder Internet governance model more robust means improving both journalistic coverage of global Internet governance decisions, as well as to make sure that the media are represented as active stakeholders in governance processes at forums like IGF, but also in bodies such as ICANN and IETF.

The world of digital rights and internet governance can seem rather intimidating and overwhelming. But a recent report by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and ARTICLE 19 eases the learning curve of getting involved in internet governance, providing tips on how to get started, including which communities, research groups and mailing lists to join, how to understand what are sometimes rather arcane institutional structures, and how to find a mentor who can help newcomers get embedded and feel welcome.

Groups like Global Partners Digital, Association for Progressive Communications and ARTICLE 19 already work to promote public interest concerns and human rights in the world of internet governance to ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and regular citizens around the world are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and privacy. But they need your help. Not only to make internet governance bodies more legitimate, inclusive and representative of all of us, but also to ensure that one of the most important communications platforms ever invented remains open, pluralistic and democratic.

CIMA and IMS together with ARTICLE 19 and the Global Forum for Media Development are facilitating a meeting to define key priorities of the media development community in getting more systematically involved in internet governance. This will help shape future interventions at internet governance bodies to make sure that the policies and standards will foster vibrant and open media ecosystems. Read more about that meeting here.