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In the years since 1989, the end of the Cold War has created new opportunities for the free expression of ideas and dialogue across national borders.  Advances in communication technology and systems of distribution have catalyzed this trend.  Satellite and cable television allow the instantaneous transmission of images around the globe.  The information highway, particularly the Internet, brings together new communities of interest for whom national boundaries are less and less relevant.

This "information revolution" is comparable to the industrial revolution for the scope and depth of its impact.  It is rapidly changing the way a large portion of humanity works, studies, consumes, and experiences the world.  At the same time, however, many new challenges have arisen.  When conflicts are based on ethnic and religious hatred, the stereotypical images people have of one another replace the Cold War as threats to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  The communications media themselves have become powerful actors at the national and international levels.   This has brought them under intense scrutiny on ethical issues such as bias, manipulation, and the "manufacture of consent" on social and political issues.  It has also raised the issue of access to the media by marginalized members of the world's population, which far too often include women and youth.


UNESCO, as the principal international agency responsible for co-operation in the fields of communication, information, and informatics, has a mandate to respond to these challenges.  Its role is to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image and to collaborate In the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of all peoples, through all means of mass communication.  This mandate refers directly to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the "right to freedom of opinion and expression." This right includes "freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."


 Communication is a critical factor in the defence of human rights, in social development, and in building a culture of peace.  UNESCO's strategy since ig8g has been:


Concentration of power in the media presents a number of dangers: the homogenization of' global culture, exclusion of the voices of women and youth, and the loss of all but a few of the world's languages, to name only a few.  UNESCO's work addresses these challenges on a number of fronts.

 One of the organization's top priorities is to enhance the role of women in the media.  As a part of the global preparation for the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO organized the international symposium "Women and the Media: Access to Expression and Decision-Making" in Toronto in 1995.  This resulted in the "Toronto Platform for Action," a set of recommendations aimed at media enterprises, professional media organizations, media training institutions, governments, and international organisations.  The Toronto Platform advocates greater involvement by women in both the technical and decision-making areas of communication and media, better coverage of women's voices and perspectives, and an end to the exploitation of negative images of women, particularly the use of women's bodies as sex objects and violence against women as "entertainment." The Toronto Platform served as the basis for the media component of the Beijing Platform for Action.

 The Toronto Symposium also created the Wommed/Femmed Network, bringing together women and men from around the world who are working to redress gender imbalances in access to expression and decision-making in the media.  UNESCO is working to strengthen and expand this network.


To promote freedom of the press, UNESCO supports non-governmental organizations, in particular the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Network (IFEX), based in Canada.  Operational since Igg!2, IFEX links journalists and their organizations around the world.  It provides information on freedom of-expression issues, serves as an "action alert network" to be used against violations of freedom of expression and attacks on journalists or media, and supports regional freedom-of-expressi8n networks.  UNESCO is assisting it to extend its geographical coverage and improve its visibility.


 Issues such as violence on television and child pornography on the Internet have raised new tensions between the principles of free expression and the free circulation of ideas and images, on the one hand, and the responsibility to protect vulnerable members of the population from exploitation, on the other.

 In 1997, UNESCO established the International Clearing House on Children and Violence on the Screen, based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, to collect, analyze, and disseminate data on violence on the screen and ways of protecting children.  It serves as an international point of reference for organizations, such as Canada's Media Awareness Network, that are working to educate the public on this issue (see Sheet i5).  UNESCO has also initiated international co-operation to combat paedophilia and child pornography on the Internet.  A conference on this problem convened by UNESCO in January 1999 adopted a plan of action that includes raising public awareness of the exploitation of children in communications media and developing the technical and social means to prevent it.



 UNESCO organizes periodic conferences under the banner of INFOethics.  The objectives of these conferences are to reaffirm the importance of universal access to information; to identify the ethical, legal and societal implications of the circulation and preservation of information; to work out essential principles which might guide countries in their debate on the development of the information society; and to propose an international strategy for co-operation among the nations of the world in the fields of education, science and culture, in the context of the information society.  The participants, who attend in a personal capacity, include national and international specialists in the legal and technical aspects of telecommunication, broadcasting, audio-visual production, libraries, archives, museums, information technology, social sciences and education.


Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, has pointed out that, in this information age, less than half of humanity has ever used a telephone.  There are more telephone lines in Manhattan than in all of sub-Saharan Africa.  The rapid development of information and communications technology has not been shared equally, either within or between nations.

 UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), aims at strengthening mass communication in developing countries , , developing technical and human resources, promoting transfer of technology, and fostering pluralism and independence of media, democracy and human rights.  In its activities, the IPDC gives priority to promoting press freedom, community media development, and participation of women in the media.

 The ORBICOM network of UNESCO chairs and associates in communications, created in Canada in I994,, is a unique mechanism for co operation and exchanges, at the international level, among academics, communication professionals and specialized industries.  The present network links 20 university chairs in communication and over 200 associate members around the world.  ORBICOM supports internship and fellowship programs to promote higher education in communication as well as exchange programmes for researchers and professors.  It also promotes the transfer of knowledge and expertise in the field and encourages collaboration among countries on joint research and development projects.

 MAKING THE MOST OF THE NEW OPPORTUNITIESDuring the 1990s, civil society organizations in dozens of countries co-operated through the Internet to pressure their governments to adopt a treaty banning land mines, and they won the Nobel Peace Price for their efforts.  Nomadic women of the Gobi Desert used electronic distance education programs to acquire the skills they needed to participate in the new market economy.  Youth of all countries contributed to building the agenda of the World Science Conference through its web site.
In short, the information revolution also has its positive side.  In myriad large and small ways, it is creating new opportunities – for democratic participation in governance, for lifelong learning, and for access to the benefits of culture and science.  We all have a responsibility to ensure that these benefits are widely shared and contribute to building a culture of peace.


 Webworld, at, is the Web site of UNESCO's Communication, Information, and Informatics program.  It is a good jumping-off point for resources on these issues. 

The Web site of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Network (IFEX) is  Managed by the Canadianjournalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the site leads into a wealth of resources for and about journalists.

 The Toronto Platform for Action is available on the Internet at For the media section of the Beijing Platform for Action, go to

 For information on the Wornmed/Femmed network, go to

 The Declaration and Plan of Action issued by the UNESCO meeting on the Sexual Abuse of Children, Child Pornography and Pacdophilia on the Internet can be found at

 ORBICOM's Web site is

International Congress on Education for Human Rights and Democracy, Montreal 8 – 12, March 1993