Opening of the Conference on Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace

3 February 2005

The Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koichiro Matsuura, opened at Headquarters today the Conference on Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace, a thematic meeting which has been organized by UNESCO as part of its contribution to the PrepCom-2 process leading towards the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), to be held in Tunis next November.

I am particularly proud that UNESCO, in conjunction with other organizations and associations, worked so hard before and during the Geneva session to ensure that freedom of expression was recognized as an essential foundation of the Information Society. The question now is how to turn that principled commitment into practical reality, stated the Director-General at the opening session of the conference. He also stressed the importance of the principle of universality: For UNESCO, the challenge of universality of creating inclusive knowledge societies in which all have the chance to participate regardless of frontiers is inseparable from ensuring freedom of expression in cyberspace. What kind of universality would it be if censorship were to rule the internet? What would universal access mean if it were access to only some information, only some ideas, only some images, only some knowledge? he said.

The Director-General affirmed UNESCOs clear support for the principle of freedom of expression. The debate must not be locked into a discussion about good or bad information. It concerns the implications and consequences of the choice of one over the other. The discussion must focus on the core issue at stake the universal human right of freedom of expression, he said

It is dangerous to establish rules for the flow of information. Not only does it hinder the free flow of ideas and opinions but it may also force unwanted ideas to be expressed underground only, making it impossible to openly counter hate speech and propaganda with informed arguments. Furthermore, there is the risk that ideas and opinions that could enhance the open debate on controversial issues will be silenced he added.

The Director-General concluded by stressing the importance of the Conferences discussions, through which ways may be identified for ensuring that free, open and inclusive knowledge societies may flourish, grounded upon the universal principle of freedom of expression.

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