Honoring free expression online

December 29, 2009

Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Breaking Borders event in Berlin that marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event, at which I spoke, took the anniversary as an opportunity to explore how the Internet is playing a role in advancing participatory democracy and free expression around the world.

The media of 1989–television and satellite technology–played a role in bringing down the wall by connecting people and empowering them with information. Now, 20 years later, vastly more powerful information and communication technology is connecting people online, making it more possible to get around efforts at censorship and the suppression of information.

As a result of discussions at the Breaking Borders conference, Google and Global Voices, the international network of bloggers, have established the Breaking Borders Award to honor those who are fighting for free expression.

The award, which is supported by Thomson Reuters, will honor and support outstanding Web projects–by individuals or groups–“that demonstrate courage, energy and resourcefulness in using the Internet to promote freedom of expression.”

You can make nominations for the award by going to www.breakingborders.net.

There will be three $10,000 prizes; one each in these categories:

  • Advocacy: given to an activist or group that has used online tools to promote free expression or encourage political change.
  • Technology: given to an individual or group that has created an important tool that enables free expression and expands access to information.
  • Policy: given to the policy maker, government official or NGO leader who has made a notable contribution in the field.

(Full disclosure: I’m serving as one of the judges for the awards.)

Sami Ben Gharbia, the advocacy director for Global Voices, put it well: ” The Internet has emerged as a critical front in the freedom of expression movement worldwide.”

Today’s media world can be cacophonous, as anyone with an Internet connection can be a publisher. But I believe we in the mainstream media have a responsibility to be enthusiastic participants in–and moderators of–this exciting media world.

I invite you to take a look at the Breaking Borders site and submit nominees.

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