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The need for enhanced source protection in the Digital Age recognised in UNESCO conference statement

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The need for enhanced source protection in the Digital Age recognised in UNESCO conference statement

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the CONNECTing the Dots conference, Chair of the Internet Governance Forum’s 'multistakeholder advisory group'  Janis Karklins said, in reference to the Snowden files: “I was shocked when we all learned about the revelations about the surveillance and the threat of data retention.” The Snowden revelations were, in fact, one of the triggers for the UNESCO Internet Study.

The Outcome Document, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by 400 participants at the conference conclusion, includes the following point:

6.2 Recognise the need for enhanced protection of the confidentiality of sources of journalism in the digital age

One of the Internet Study’s themes is the need to ensure protection for confidential sources relied upon by investigative journalists in the digital era. I am leading a UNESCO-commissioned international research project for WAN-IFRA and the World Editors Forum called Privacy and Journalists’ Sources which will feed the over-arching Internet Study.

The Sources Study, which is now nearing completion, has been produced in a global climate of disruption caused by crises in journalism attributed to the erosion of source protection in the post-Snowden era. It evolved in a climate of rising concern internationally about the undercutting of legal source protection frameworks by mass surveillance and mandatory data retention, the trumping effect of national security and anti-terrorism legislation, and the shifting media production landscape which has seen the broadening of definitions of journalistic acts and actors, with relevance to debates about who is entitled to claim access to source protection.

Respondents to a global survey connected to the overarching UNESCO Internet Study  reported that “…protections for journalists were inadequate, with many feeling that journalists were ‘barely’ covered." According to the draft UNESCO Internet Study which was informed by the survey results: " concern by respondents was that protections, where they exist, are often limited to ‘traditional’ journalists — those working in media such as print or broadcast. In an era of increasingly internet-based journalism, this was seen as inadequate.”

The draft Internet Study also notes that: “Updating regulation that protects the confidentiality of journalists’ sources to include digital aspects, was underlined as being central to press freedom in research specially commissioned from the World Association of Newspapers and New Publishers (WAN-IFRA) as a contribution towards this study.”

The Outcomes Document from this week’s conference also includes the following important points relevant to press freedom and journalists' safety more broadly:

1.2 Affirm that the fundamental human rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and its corollary of press freedom and the right of access to information, and the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to privacy, are enablers of the post-2015 development agenda.

3.3 Support safety for journalists, media workers, and social media producers who generate a significant amount of journalism, and reaffirm the importance of the rule of law to combat impunity in cases of attacks on freedom of expression and journalism, on or off the internet.

4.4 Recognise the role that anonymity and encryption can play as enablers of privacy protection and freedom of expression, facilitate dialogue on these issues.

According to UNESCO, the Outcomes Statement will now be sent to the UNESCO Executive Board “…where Member States may decide to recommend it to the 38th General Conference of UNESCO in November 2015.”

Note: The over-arching UNESCO Internet Study is informed by UNESCO’s concept of “Internet Universality”, which summarizes four key principles: (i) that the Internet should be human Rights-based (ii) “Open”, (iii) “Accessible to all”, and (iv) nurtured by Multi-stakeholder participation. These principles are known as R-O-A-M.

Disclaimer: While this blog post was written within the framework for research conducted for UNESCO funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), ideas, opinions and findings are not necessarily those of UNESCO or Sida and do not commit the organisations.


Julie Posetti's picture

Julie Posetti


2015-03-06 20:06

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The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (, launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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