The pressing global need to guarantee access to information and protect the safety of journalists were highlighted with the adoption of the Finlandia Declaration at UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event last week.
Focussing on the key global issues affecting media freedom and access to information, over 1,000 stakeholders joined the call for UNESCO’s member states to “reaffirm that press freedom and the right to information are essential for a free, independent and pluralistic media and crucial to the advancement of human rights and sustainable development.”
The declaration stresses the importance of protecting access to information, as well as ensuring that states work towards making public information available off and online, and promoting universal internet access.
Participants called on member states: “To put in place strong systems for proactive disclosure of information, taking full advantage of Information and Communication Technologies and promoting, as far as possible, universal access to the Internet and respect for open data principles.”
The declaration also emphasises the extreme danger facing journalists around the world, and the urgent need to take tangible steps towards providing protection for media workers to defend press freedom as a whole by calling on member states “to promote the safety of newsrooms and journalists online and offline through training, ICT applications, safety protocols and systems, as well the importance of confidentiality of journalistic sources in the digital age.”
The declaration then highlights the importance of “protect[ing] the identity of confidential sources of journalism against direct and indirect exposure, and to protect whistleblowers,” while also calling for member states to “protect in law and in practice the right of individuals to protect the privacy of their digital communications by using encryption technology and tools that facilitate anonymity online.”
Another significant aspect of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is the promotion of cultural diversity and tolerance, and the Finlandia Declaration also reiterates this, by mentioning UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection of and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression from 2005.
The declaration also highlights the importance of freedom of speech “to developing a free, independent and pluralistic media and essential to strengthening its capacity to counter hate speech, promote intercultural understanding, and fight radicalization and violent extremism.”
Gender issues are mentioned in the declaration, which calls on members: “To adopt and support gender equality policies and programmes in implementing the right to information, and to use the UNESCO Gender Sensitive Indicators for Media to advance press freedom.”
Education is also noted in the declaration, with participants emphasising the need to promote Media and Information Literacy initiatives “to support people to develop their capabilities to use the Internet as informed creators and users of information and knowledge, and to encourage a political culture that can isolate, expose and eliminate all forms of incitement to hostility, discrimination and violence.”
The decision made by UNESCO’s executive board last year to celebrate an International Day for Universal Access to Information on September 28 each year was also welcomed by participants at the event.