Faced with revolutionary changes following the advent of new technologies, UNESCO has shaped itself to be an international forum for reflecting and debating the social, cultural, ethic and legal impact of such changes on the “information society”. The opportunities for developments in education, science, culture and communication opened up by the new media are, however, balanced by a number of perils: the risk of cultural and linguistic homogenisation, a widening gap in the information distribution between richer and poorer countries, the risk of marginalisation for parts of the population, and the loss of our documentary heritage from the rapid technological progress.
UNESCO works to achieve universal access to information and knowledge everywhere in the world. Its objective is to create a knowledge society based on knowledge transfer that includes all socio-cultural and ethnic/ethical dimensions of sustainable development. The intergovernmental Information for All Programme (IFAP) programme was established to further these goals and to develop universal ethic, legal and social standards.
A major theme for UNESCO is the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, especially in regions torn by war and strife. Acting on a proposal by UNESCO, the United Nations, in 1991, proclaimed the World Press Freedom Day for 3 May. Each year, UNESCO awards the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, which supports independent media, especially in conflict and post-conflict regions.
Another crucial subject is the promotion of cultural diversity and pluralism in the media and global information networks. UNESCO extends its particular support to marginalised and disadvantaged groups to enable them to produce and disseminate audiovisual programmes.
Preserving digital heritage, which involves the digitisation and long-term preservation of digital documents, is a major priority for UNESCO. Through its successful “Memory of the World” Programme introduced in 1992, UNESCO aims to secure survival of the documentary heritage of humanity (books, manuscripts, audiovisual media) world-wide.
Through its guidelines and priorities, UNESCO made a significant contribution to the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva in December 2003 and in Tunis in 2005.