Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the world’s first Ministerial Summit for Information and Democracy, which will be held in New York on 24 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Launched by RSF, the Initiative on Information and Democracy aims to establish safeguards for the digital space so that online platforms and social media stop taking decisions that should be made by democratic institutions.

RSF is expecting concrete results from this Summit, in the framework of the Partnership for Information and Democracy that France promoted in 2019. It will be chaired by French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and will be opened jointly by Le Drian and Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of RSF and chair of the Forum on Information and Democracy.

The 43 countries that have so far joined the Partnership for Information and Democracy, including Argentina, Canada, Germany, India, Norway, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom, undertake to promote and implement democratic principles in the digital information and communication space. The Initiative on Information and Democracy developed by RSF that gave rise to the Partnership aims to develop the regulations needed in the digital space to safeguard freedom of opinion and expression and the right to be informed.

Five goals have been set for the Summit: to defend and promote access to freely reported, diverse and reliable news and information; to debate the Forum on Information and Democracy’s policy recommendations at a high-level and encourage their implementation; to discuss forming an “International Observatory on Information and Democracy”; to launch a civil society coalition linked to the Forum; and to foster ties between the Partnership for Information and Democracy and international organisations concerned with issues related to free speech, press freedom and digital regulation.

The foreign ministers of the governments that are members of the Partnership for Information and Democracy are due to attend the Summit, as are leaders of inter-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, private sector companies and research institutes. It will therefore be a unique opportunity for international coordination on the challenges of access to information in the digital era, challenges liable to affect the proper functioning of democracies.

“We want this Summit to be a tipping point in efforts to prevent new technologies from destroying democracies,” Deloire said. “The Initiative on Information and Democracy already has 43 partner governments, a civil society implementing entity namely the Forum on Information and Democracy created to respond to this century’s challenges, and working groups that have already drafted 350 recommendations for better regulation.”

“We cannot keep a system in which online platforms censor social media accounts without any democratic control, permit the spread of rumours about the pandemic, and subject media to blackmail. From awareness of these issues, we must now move on to action. There is an urgent need for algorithms to be transparent, for protection against disinformation spreading via private messaging services, and for the implementation of concrete mechanisms, such as the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), to ensure reliable news and information.”

The Partnership for Information and Democracy has already produced significant results. Eleven civil society organisations from all continents joined in creating the Forum on Information and Democracy to help implement the Partnership’s goals. The Forum has proposed a regulatory framework in the form of 250 recommendations on “How to end infodemics” (published in 2020) and 100 recommendations for “A New Deal for Journalism” (June 2021).

These proposals, which will be discussed at the Summit, were already presented to the Alliance for Multilateralism, which comprises nearly 70 governments and which was created at the initiative of France and Germany with the aim of strengthening multilateral cooperation and proposing specific solutions to global challenges.

Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this Ministerial Summit will have a hybrid format, with participants attending in person at the Consulate-General of France in New York or by videoconference.