Robyn Caplan, a fellow at the GovLab and a SC&I Fellow and PhD student at Rutgers University, reviews CGCS Director Monroe Price’s most recent publication Free Expression, Globalism, and the New Strategic Communication and recaps the GovLab’s related book event.
What effect does the Internet and globalization have on ‘freedom of expression?’ The emerging debate posits a new freedom and openness in communication and its capacity to transcend borders, against a growing power of states and other powerful entities to monitor and control information flows. This dichotomy is strong, but some argue there is a third effect on freedom of expression that is not being as strongly considered: The Internet and a new global communication regime has resulted in competing theories of free expression – held by different cultures and countries – to cross borders, clash, and transform discourse and debate. Changes in technologies and global communications has meant that freedom of expression and what this concept entails, has become both the battleground and the weapon used by states and other major players in the information age.
This is one of the subjects of Monroe Price’s latest book, Free Expression, Globalism, and the New Strategic Communication released by Cambridge University Press in December 2014. Last week, The GovLab at NYU and the Media, Culture and Communication program at NYU Steinhardt held an event to discuss the book with the author. The book is a successor to Prof. Price’s 2002 book, Media & Sovereignty, in which he discussed the effect of globalization on media practices, institutions and content.
Is free speech a fundamental right and does it have appropriate limits? Pope Francis has provided the most memorable recent attempt at an answer. Yes, there is such a thing as a right to free speech but if you upset people you might have a punch travelling towards your face. But the Pope’s intervention is only one amongst many. In the wake of the recent terrorist outrages in Paris, and the massive responses to it globally, a debate has erupted about the nature of free speech and its appropriate boundaries. It is an intense and global debate, but, as often happens when human emotions are all aquiver, there has been more heat than light. In what follows, I will make an effort to untangle the issues before tackling the question I posed in the heading.
And in doing so, I am going to take two views of free speech. The first is what I call the internal view: free speech considered within the boundaries of specific countries and legal systems. The second is what I call the global view: free speech within the emerging global public sphere. I begin with the internal view.
Internationally, CSO's are also speaking out against marginalization and unfair legal pratices. In the lead-up to the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly this week, CSOs are arguing that even though many organizations and activitsts are regularly invited to voice their concerns, they nonetheless stand little chance of influencing the real agenda because the inter-governmental system is almost entirely state-driven.
In this video, Ryota Jonen of the Civic Space Initiative, outlines six broad categories of legal constraints that CSOs face worldwide:
Can Big Data Stop Wars Before They Happen?
It has been almost two decades exactly since conflict prevention shot to the top of the peace-building agenda, as large-scale killings shifted from interstate wars to intrastate and intergroup conflicts. What could we have done to anticipate and prevent the 100 days of genocidal killing in Rwanda that began in April 1994 or the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica just over a year later? The international community recognized that conflict prevention could no longer be limited to diplomatic and military initiatives, but that it also requires earlier intervention to address the causes of violence between nonstate actors, including tribal, religious, economic, and resource-based tensions. For years, even as it was pursued as doggedly as personnel and funding allowed, early intervention remained elusive, a kind of Holy Grail for peace-builders. This might finally be changing. The rise of data on social dynamics and what people think and feel -- obtained through social media, SMS questionnaires, increasingly comprehensive satellite information, news-scraping apps, and more -- has given the peace-building field hope of harnessing a new vision of the world.
The economist who revealed how media bias works
It’s heady company. When he won the John Bates Clark Medal earlier this month, University of Chicago economics professor Matthew Gentzkow suddenly found himself among legends such as Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman. Both are past recipients of the award, which the American Economic Association bestows on the American economist under the age of 40 who “who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.” Plenty of past winners have worked in familiar areas, such as wage dynamics or health economics. Gentzkow’s work is less orthodox: an interesting mix of the history and micro-economics of the media world.
Saturday, May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. In honor of this day, we are sharing a selection of print ads on the theme of "Silence kills democracy, but a free press talks" from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
The UN has long espoused the promotion of transparency and access to information as core elements of human rights and anticorruption efforts. In 1946, UN Resolution 59(I), adopted in the very first session of the General Assembly declared: “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.” Subsequently, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights included the freedom of information as an intrinsic component of the freedom of expression. The UN Convention Against Corruption requires signatories "to take measures to enhance transparency in public administration,” And the 2000 Millennium Declaration, the preamble to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) declared the resolve to “ensure freedom of the media to perform their essential role and the right of the public to have access to information.”
So, the prominent references to transparency and right to information in the recently released report of the High Level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Experts on the post-2015 Development Agenda is not remarkable or surprising in itself. But both the language – the report calls for a “transparency revolution” and a “data revolution,” and the framing – the report proposes that good governance and transparency be included as core targets, suggest that there is an impetus for accelerated efforts in this area.
Any inclusion of transparency in the post-2015 MDGs will only be a logical complement to other global dynamics and the deepening of the information age. On the one hand, whistleblowers, wikileaks, and global media have harnessed the inexorably unshackling power of technology to bring issues of secrecy and transparency to the center of popular consciousness. On the other hand, and perhaps as a reaction to these forces, governments are launching various initiatives to demonstrate their commitment to the principle of transparency.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
International Journal of Communication
Online Civic Cultures? Debating Climate Change Activism on YouTube
"This article explores the potential of video activism on YouTube to form a communicative space for deliberation and dissent. It asks how commenting on activist videos can help sustain civic cultures that allow for both antagonism and inclusive political debate. Drawing on a case study of online debates spurred by the video War on Capitalism, which called for protest against the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference, the article offers an empirical analysis that operationalizes the framework of civic cultures. In so doing, it investigates the ways in which activist videos are received by potentially transnational publics and how online modes of debate engage notions of the public sphere in contemporary online environments." READ MORE
Aid Workers Turn to Text Messaging to Improve Food Aid Delivery to Refugees in the Western Sahara
"Communication between beneficiaries and food aid providers in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Algeria suffers as the number of food distribution points increases. Rosa Akbari worked as an independent researcher funded by a grant from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to explore better communication tools to be used within the camps. What she found was a society prepped for technological innovation. By using what was already in place – a mobile phone in each household – Rosa capitalized on existing flows of information as they worked without technology and used FrontlineSMS to ease the communication within the camps." READ MORE
The internet has certainly changed the process of how information and news is filtered and by whom. A process that was carried out by traditional media for decades is today largely managed by a few internet companies through algorithms. In this new role, they are not only filtering information but also helping us navigate a widely scattered information landscape through their products and services. In a new report by the Center of International Media Assistance, Bill Ristow discusses the role of these new information gatekeepers and the implications they face in protecting policies and practices across borders, such as openness of information and freedom of expression. Setting universally accepted norms on what is good behavior on the internet and what is not, is a major challenge. The question is who should be making these kinds of decisions? How are the new information gatekeepers held accountable?
"And the problem with freedom is that there -- is that people will always misuse it, you know, because not everybody's a nice guy and not everybody is smart and sophisticated and intelligent. Some people are just the opposite of that, you know. But that, you know, freedom means freedom for those people too. And so in order to defend the general subject of freedom, you have to defend the freedom of people you don't like or do things that you find ugly and cheap and tawdry like this video, you know, which is clearly not a work of any merit at all, you know, and yet the point about freedom is there has to be freedom for work without any merit at all as well. And so that's the -- that's just the simple logic of it, and I think if we believe in this value, you know, of free expression, we just have to hold the line. We just have to say, this is what we do."
--Salman Rushdie (Interviewed by Fareed Zakaria, GPS, September 23, 2012)
Last week, the international literacy day was celebrated around the world. The theme this year, Literacy and Peace, was based on the premise that “literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict.” Today, basic reading and writing skills are not sufficient to effectively succeed in a knowledge-based society. The fast speed and wide spread of information have generated an array of new literacies. The following literacies are referred to as crucial to surviving in the 21st century: basic literacy skills, computer literacy, media literacy, distance education and e-learning, cultural literacy, and information literacy.