Panelists find progress in free flow of information worldwide

WASHINGTON – Speakers at a CCLP forum at the Newseum provided mostly positive assessments of worldwide freedom of information.

Vint Cerf, widely described as “father of the Internet,” said the combination of the Internet with mobile telephones has extended freedom of information to billions of people worldwide. If there is a better technology, he added, he doesn’t know about it – or he would be investing in it.

Cerf, who serves as Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist (yes, that’s his official title), did express a concern. Governments and politicians keep trying to control the Internet, just as governments worldwide control broadcasting and print media.

Jerelyn Eddings, a longtime Africa correspondent who now serves as program director for the International Center for Journalists, said freedom of information on the African continent is generally improving, but she cited reverses in South Africa, which has enacted a restrictive media law, as an unwelcome surprise.

Arnold Zeitlin, a journalist and educator who returned from China just days before the panel, said he had been surprised by both the widening access there to information on line and to the candor with which Chinese are describing events – and their own government. Zeitlin, who teaches at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, added that this is a very new trend.

Marguerite Sullivan, senior director for the Center for International Media Assistance, described changes in funding for independent media around the world. She drew on information collected for CIMA’s quadrennial review of the state of independent media worldwide, which will be released this spring.

Sullivan’s organization also published a report this year which showed country after country, including the US and other democracies, are passing laws to limit free access to information on line.

The CCLP forum was part of the annual day-long program marking Freedom of Information Day, presented by the First Amendment Center.

You can read more about the forum here.