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New Frontiers, New Barriers . . .and the Start of New Conversations?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

World Press Freedom Day is being celebrated today and throughout this week with events around the world. Here in Washington, a veritable who’s who of journalists, free speech advocates, government officials and NGOs have gathered to network and learn from each other at the World Press Freedom Day 2011 conference, hosted at the Newseum by UNESCO and the U.S. Department of State.

This year’s theme is “Twenty-First Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers.” Listening to some of the speeches, you can hear a distillation of several points that many of us who support voice and accountability repeatedly stress: the Internet and digital platforms, as well as traditional journalism, have tremendous potential to contribute to freedom of expression, democratic governance, and sustainable development. At the same time, that potential is prevented from its full realization by a host of factors, including governmental and other forms of censorship, surveillance, intimidation, and other means.

These are all important points to make, and they bear repeating. Moreover, with technology evolving so rapidly, new issues are cropping up all the time, and must be addressed. But, as happy as I am to see so many old friends and colleagues in the same place, I also wonder what we're all doing to take the conversation beyond our well-worn halls and gathering places, both real and virtual. Those of us in this broad community like to talk to each other - most of us are former journalists, after all - but it seems to me that real change on this front will be spurred by interactions of a less familiar, and familial, nature. How can these challenges be brought home to the wider community of Internet users, for instance, for whom they deserve to be more than an abstraction, or something that happens to "somebody else"? How can they be inserted more centrally in the conversation about development? With more and more of the world going digital in one form or another, these issues will be increasingly relevant, not to millions, but billions. As a community that cares deeply about these issues, we need to be making the case to them, not each other.

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Photo Credit: Flickr user journeyman62

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