Aspen Institute Partners with Grupo Salinas to Convene First Forum on the Freedom to Communicate

February 23, 2012  • Institute Contributor

Contact: Kiahna Williams
Senior Project Manager
Communications and Society Program
[email protected]

Panelists call for Mexican Government to Address Connectivity, Censorship and Competition

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 23, 2012Mexico‘s economic and political success in the 21st century information age will depend upon the country’s ability to address critical issues of connectivity, censorship and competition.  Sustaining healthy democracies throughout the Western Hemisphere will depend upon each country taking concrete steps to protect the free flow of ideas and foster environments in which freedom, communication and creativity can flourish.

These are the conclusions of 16 distinguished journalists, business and government leaders, and academic experts from the United States, Mexico and other Western Hemisphere countries who met in Mexico City this week for the first Aspen Institute Forum on the Freedom to Communicate. The Aspen Institute Communication and Society Program, in association with Grupo Salinas, convened the Forum at the Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico City on February 22.

“I firmly believe that the freedom to communicate and the free flow of ideas, gradually but inexorably bends the arc of history toward democracy, and that will be the story of the 21st century,” noted Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, in his keynote remarks to the Forum.

“History has demonstrated that efforts to censor and control communication will not succeed. Ideas have consequences that can transform society,” said Ricardo Salinas Pliego, Chairman of Grupo Salinas, in keynote remarks. He added that Mexican legislators have created a number of obstacles to free expression that ought not to be acceptable in a democratic society. He also noted more recent decisions by Mexico‘s regulatory agencies that have not been helpful for competition.

The Forum featured sessions on Freedom and Connectedness; Journalism in the New Media Ecosystem; Freedom of Communication in Mexico: Enabling Policies for the Next Administration; and An Enabling Environment for the Freedom to Communicate.

Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation at the U.S. Department of State, spoke at the Forum as part of the opening panel on Freedom and Connectedness. He offered three recommendations for nurturing a connected society and open Internet in Mexico. Although government can play an important role by facilitating goals such as infrastructure development, the first role of government, Ross said, “is to do no harm.” Ross said it is important also for Mexico to develop its ecosystem of access to venture capital and to nurture the next generation of digital entrepreneurs at Mexican universities.

Addressing the issue of censorship, which exists to varying degrees throughout Latin America, Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists described how intimidation from the drug cartels threatens the free flow of information and has left many communities in Mexico with huge information gaps. “This has become one of the most dangerous countries for the press, not just in this hemisphere but in the world,” said Lauria, who noted that there have been 40 cases of journalists murdered or missing during the nearly six years of the Calderon administration. Many journalists have given up their craft or fled into exile. “It is fear of intimidation that leads to censorship,” said Lauria. “Society lacking information is a less democratic society.”

The purpose of the Forum on the Freedom to Communicate is to address issues surrounding the freedoms of expression and connectivity, aiming to arrive at actionable steps that can enhance these freedoms, particularly in the Americas. The Communication and Society Program will publish a report of the inaugural Forum, with the intent of submitting its findings and recommendations to the presidential candidates prior to Mexico‘s election in July, with the idea of getting their reaction to these issues.

“The communication revolution is already here, and Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village is already here. If Mexico does not stand up to this challenge and does not have an economy based on knowledge, we will not be able to move forward. Economies based on manufacturing won’t succeed in the future. We won’t be able to compete with China and Vietnam. We must have access to communications, and we must have the infrastructure to do so,” said Sergio Sarmiento, a well-known Mexican journalist, writer and television anchor at TV Azteca. Sarmiento co-moderated the Forum with Charlie Firestone of the Aspen Institute.  

An archived webcast of the Forum is availanble at www.aspeninstitute.org/freedom2c . Ongoing conversation is taking place on Twitter using hashtag #freedom2c.

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The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program serves as a non-partisan venue for global leaders and experts to exchange insights on the societal impact of advances in digital technology and network communications. It also creates a multidisciplinary space in the communications policy-making world where veteran and emerging decision-makers can explore new concepts and develop new policy networks. Visit us on the web at www.aspeninstitute.org/c&s and follow on Twitter @aspencs

Grupo Salinas is a group of dynamic, fast-growing and technologically advanced companies, focused on creating shareholder value, and improving society through excellence. By making technology available to all levels of society, Grupo Salinas promotes the development of the countries where it operates. Follow on Twitter @GrupoSalinas_GS

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