Monthly Archives: October 2019

2019 Internet Affordability Report: the Case for Public Access

Who is able to go online today – and how many can afford to access the internet? In October 2019, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) released a new installment of the annual Affordability Report – a research and analysis of how policies in lower- and middle-income countries affect the costs of internet connectivity for the population.
This year’s report emphasises that healthy broadband markets together with public access solutions – free or low-cost internet connections available in places such as libraries and telecenters – can expand connectivity and promote digital inclusion. As such, it is a great potential resource for library advocacy around public access.

The costs of connectivity remain a crucial barrier for those who do not have internet access. A4AI – a global coalition of businesses, governments and civil society actors – works to help deliver affordable internet access for all through research, advocacy, and engaging with governments and partners in different countries around the world.

The 2019 Internet Affordability report released by A4AI notes the progress that lower-income countries have made in bringing down the costs of internet access through various policy changes. However, overall progress is slow, and we are likely to be years or decades away from affordable and meaningful internet access for all.

The report suggests three key policy measures to bring down internet costs for end-users. Two focus on building a competitive and stable broadband market, but the third measure puts emphasis on public internet access as a crucial complement to these measures.

The case for public access

As the report explains, public internet access in places such as libraries and telecentres has several crucial advantages:

Bringing more people online and fostering digital inclusion

Public internet access offers connectivity for those who cannot afford retail prices. Public access facilities can help reach and accommodate the needs of specific groups which may have fewer opportunities to get online, such as rural residents, women, indigenous populations or people with disabilities.

It can create more demand for internet access: public access offers first-time users a way to get familiar with and learn the benefits of the digital world, and many users may later choose to get individual subscriptions.

For those who purchase data packages, public access can offer a way to lower the data costs: for example, many users choose to do data-intensive tasks (e.g. uploading pictures to social media) through a public connection, and only use their own data bundles for less data-heavy tasks (like chats) to keep the charges down.

Financial and commercial benefits

People can take advantage of public connectivity to make use of e-finance services and engage in e-commerce. Public access facilities create opportunities for people to engage in the digital economy (for example, offering people a way to make e-payments), and can also provide assistance and related services – for example, helping and training local entrepreneurs and helping them create websites for their businesses.

Health and education

Public access enables people to access educational and training opportunities, especially for those who many not have the opportunity to attend traditional classes and courses in educational facilities. Public access also allows more people to connect with the growing e-health systems – from making online appointments to accessing medical information and advice online.

The importance of ICT skills

The report highlights that it is crucial to provide public access solutions and simultaneously promote inclusive support for digital skills. It points to libraries and post offices as community spaces where such support can be provided.

Libraries work to realise the full potential of public access

The experience of many libraries shows how these benefits of public access can be realised in practice.

Public access remains an important part of the road towards achieving universal access. Public access can provide new opportunities and make a difference – the report offers stories of people connecting through university campus WiFi or a community network to access study materials, carry out their business online and connect with people.

Libraries deliver public internet access alongside ICT workstations, provide guidance for new users, and, in many cases, offer ICT skills training. That is why they can offer a low-cost and high-impact way to provide public internet access and realise its full potential in many areas, from e-health to digital and financial inclusion.

Media and Information Literacy for All: Libraries and the 2019 Global MIL Week

Changing digital media environments, the growing abundance of information available online, rapid technological developments – the information ecosystems of today are increasingly complex. From verifying a piece of information you come across to safe and ethical behavior online, people need a particular set of skills and competencies to succeed in an increasingly information-rich world. This includes the ability to effectively search for, evaluate, meaningfully use and create information.

These competencies fall under the broad umbrella of Media and Information literacy (MIL), and October 24th marks the beginning of the annual Global Media and Information Literacy week. Led by UNESCO and GAPMIL, it brings together actors which help people develop these competencies.

Libraries have a long history of promoting information literacy. In part, it has to do with some of the key tasks of librarianship: libraries offer access to information and help users make the most of it – from helping them understand what information they need, to finding the most relevant sources, checking and evaluating them.

Particularly important is a library’s ability to reach vulnerable populations. Open to everyone, they can offer MIL learning opportunities for groups at risk of exclusion – for example, those that do not have access to formal educational programmes, or internet and computer access at home.

This year’s theme is “Media and Information Literate Citizens: Informed, Engaged, Empowered”. Empowering citizens requires particular efforts to include more vulnerable groups – both youth and older people, women, cultural or linguistic minorities, and many others.

To mark this year’s MIL week, we would like to highlight the work that different libraries around the world do to help the more vulnerable groups strengthen and develop their MIL competencies.

For rural communities:
The “In4skill Program” is an information literacy training module developed by the National Library of Malaysia. The module is designed to address key information search and usage skills – from teaching Malaysians to identify their information needs, to finding, evaluating and organizing information, to its ethical use and dissemination.

Recognising the particular informational needs of rural communities and a knowledge gap between urban and rural dwellers, the National Library made a concerted effort to reach rural communities with its information literacy initiative.

It upscaled the program and collaborated with community and non-governmental agencies in rural areas, as well as schools and state or village libraries. The result was a series of informational literacy programs implemented in different rural communities, as well as “training for trainers” workshops to help rural librarians, teachers or educators organise their own information literacy initiatives.

For older learners:
Libraries in Lithuania actively work to help their communities develop their media and information literacy skills – through many different initiatives, projects and partnerships. Several projects have focused on helping older learners develop their MIL competencies – such as Kaunas County Public Library’s “Changing Media World: Developing a Responsible User”, Kudirka Public Library’s “Academy of Media and Information Literacy”, or Pasvalys M. Katiliškis Public Library’s “Information in the World: Understand, Evaluate, Use”.

These three projects introduced a wide variety of lectures, workshops and training sessions, covering many crucial information and media literacy competencies – from critical engagement with information on both digital and traditional media, to personal data protection, to social media use and creation of their own media content, in a safe and ethical manner.

These projects, recognising the information needs of older residents, aimed to improve their quality of life and encourage their active (and informed!) participation in the digital society.

For people with disabilities:
Other initiatives introduced by Lithuanian libraries have focused on the MIL competencies of persons with disabilities. For example, the Kaunas County Public Library have recorded and made available educational videos about media literacy in sign language, as well as organising and live-streaming lectures for persons with disabilities on such topics as hate speech, online content creation, fake news and augmented reality.

For lower-income families:
In the US, the Wash and Learn initiative launched by Libraries without Borders brings digital and physical library assets and information services to laundromats, which they identified as a spaces particularly well-suited to engage with lower-income families and underserved communities.

Through this program, visitors get access to curated collection of information sources (selected daily), tailored to the local community’s needs – e.g. on relevant health, educational or legal matters. Librarians or para-librarians are there to help visitors navigate available information, refine their search questions and identify their information needs – and, importantly, reinforce and develop their own information literacy skills.

As such, they can offer guidance in finding and assessing, for example, basic health or legal information, and helping visitors find answers to their own questions.

For children and youth:
One of the areas the School Libraries Network Programme in Portugal works on is developing literacy skills and capacities of school children, subdivided into three categories: reading, information, and media. Noting that there had been comparatively less activities focusing on media literacy, the Network organised an intervention with the aim to raise awareness and encourage teacher librarians to help develop their student’s media literacy.

This prompted the creation of teaching resources and activities for both librarians and students. For example, the MILD Manual de Instruções de Literacia Digital website was created as a resource for media literacy teaching materials and activities for students between ages of 14 and 18. It offers materials for both formal and informal learning, in different settings, on topics ranging from media news and content to social networks to digital citizenship.

Another example is the annual Media@ção contest, where primary and secondary school students are invited to explore different issues and themes surrounding internet and digital media in their entry submissions – e.g. a video or a podcast. Examples of such themes include “media, democracy and tolerance”, or dealing with fake news.

How does your library celebrate the Media and Information Literacy week, and help people become informed and active digital citizens? Share your inspiring examples on social media using the hashtag #GlobalMILWeek, or send us an email to let us know what you are doing!

Intellectual Freedom in Turkey

Over the last few months, FAIFE marked the 20th anniversary of the IFLA Statement on Intellectual Freedom with a series of blogs outlining the debates on intellectual freedom in different countries. Today, Ahmet A. Sabancı – a freelance writer, journalist and social critic who focuses on issues surrounding freedom of expression, journalism and the internet – shares an essay about the threats to freedom of information that exist in Turkey.

The essay is based on a presentation he gave during the 2019 World Library and Information Congress session “20 Years of the IFLA Intellectual Freedom Statement: Constancy and Change”. You can find a recording of the session on the website of WLIC 2019.


The Many Faces of the Freedom of Information Threats in Turkey

Ahmet A. Sabancı –

In recent years, the state of freedom of information in Turkey has become a well known and discussed topic all around the world. Government censorship and control over media becoming more ruthless every passing day, the situation in Turkey has become an example for many. Especially with the rise of similar developments in different parts of the world, understanding how it works in the countries where the situation is already a concern becomes more important.

To understand and analyze the current freedom of information situation in Turkey, I propose a three-layer explanation of the threats against this freedom. These three layers will both help us to understand the levels of the threats and how one type of threat intensifies another.

  1. Government Censorship and Control

Internet Censorship

Law 5651, the infamous law that regulates the Internet in Turkey, has been used actively to censor the Internet in Turkey. With the latest update in 2014, this law gives the government an unlimited power to censor the Internet and surveil Turkish internet users.

According to latest research, there are 245,825 websites blocked in Turkey. This number has increased even since. Some of the well-known websites blocked are Wikipedia; Imgur, an image sharing platform; Pastebin, a text file sharing platform for coders; and Tor Project, a tool for people to use the Internet anonymously. As well, many VPN services have been blocked in Turkey in recent years. This leaves many people without safe options to circumvent the censorship.

The list of censored websites also includes many political websites and news platforms. The most famous one is, which is a labor-focused left-wing news site. The courts have ordered access to this site be blocked 63 times: the owners are now using the domain There are many political news sites or alternative media projects that experience similar situations.

The Turkish government also sends take-down requests to platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Turkey is usually at the top of their quarterly take down request lists. For example, Turkey sent 5014 removal requests, specifying 9155 accounts between July-December 2018. This puts Turkey on top of the list of countries that ask for content removal. In the same period, Russia comes after Turkey with 3344 requests for 3391 accounts. For comparison, during the same time period Germany sent only 42 requests with 44 accounts specified, and Canada sent 6 requests with 9 accounts specified.

There is also a new regulation that gives the governmental body that regulates television and radio new powers over Internet-based dissemination platforms such as Netflix and YouTube. Currently, Turkish television is heavily controlled and censored, and subjecting these platforms to similar controls might cause most of them to leave the country.

Censorship of Books and Journalism

The Turkish government uses Presidential decrees for censorship. Since the 2016 coup attempt, more than 30 book publishers and 100 news outlets have been shut down and all of their books have been collected. This has resulted in the removal of more than 135,000 books from Turkish libraries.

Journalism is also under heavy pressure in Turkey. Any journalist who writes news articles critical of the government risks arrest and imprisonment. The most-used excuses for the suppression of journalism are alleged links to terrorism or the revealing of government secrets. Right now, Turkey is the number-one jailer of journalists in the entire world. There are in addition ongoing incidents of violence against journalists, which usually comes from random groups because of what journalists have said or written.

  1. Media Ownership and Economic Control

One of the most important threats in Turkey to freedom of information is the concentration of media ownership. Most of the mainstream media, including book publishers and distributors, are owned by a small group of conglomerates which have close ties with the government. The current media ownership situation and its effects in Turkey can be read about in detail on the Media Ownership Monitor Turkey website.

This ownership relationship results in censorship, limiting readers’ access to only information produced by politically approved groups. This forces many minority or opposition groups to search for alternative means of disseminating information. It seriously limits their reach to the general public. The other current censorship mechanisms sit atop this limitation.

Already controlling mainstream media and information distribution through ownership, the government also uses other means of economic pressure over the opposition media, such as reducing advertising revenue. Many corporations buy advertising only from media organizations that are unofficially “approved.” The government also uses official announcements and press releases, distributed through Basın İlan Kurumu, which is an important revenue for print media, only to newspapers that are politically close to the government.

  1. Self-Censorship and Other Pressures on Intellectual Workers

These two layers of control have created an atmosphere in Turkey that results in self-censorship and an avoidance of “dangerous topics,” a widespread phenomenon. Self-censorship occurs in many ways. This can be publishers avoiding some content, libraries or bookstores not distributing books about “dangerous topics” or people afraid of talking about such issues. One of the main reasons for this situation is the legal pressure, mentioned as the first layer of censorship in this blogpost.

There is also the social pressure side of this, which can easily be manifested as people “doxing” (unauthorized online disseminating of identifying or personal information about someone) writers and journalists or reporting them to the police because of their work; or reporting teachers because of the books that they have recommended. This kind of pressure also forces many people to self-censor.

This social pressure is perceived by everyone. Whether they’re sharing something on a social media platform or talking with a group of friends, people feel the need to self-censor. This pressure even blocks the spread of information between small groups of people.

Can Libraries Help?

Unfortunately, the current situation of libraries is not good in Turkey either. Limited library budgets and shortage of library personnel leaves many libraries in a bad shape. There is also a serious lack of libraries in general across Turkey. In addition to these economic pressures, there is political pressure that affects librarians, inasmuch as a librarian might be demoted because of their support for an opposition candidate. Filling librarian positions with unqualified workers also weakens libraries.

Although the current situation seems bleak, librarians can help the public to fight back against the threats to the freedom of information. Promoting libraries and hosting events to help people to learn how to find more diverse information sources or how to navigate online when there are many untrusted sources can be an important mission for libraries. In these conditions finding, fact-checking and organizing information is vital for every person. Librarians can help people to learn how to do it.

In Conclusion

Freedom of information and intellectual freedoms in general are in a dire condition in Turkey. This is caused by different actors using diverse tools and tactics to restrict the information that the public can access. A fight against these pressures on the legal front continues, but its effects are unfortunately limited.

Because of this pressure, many people prefer to use the Internet for accessing information, but the Turkish people face new problems on that front. Internet censorship, blocking of access to privacy and anonymity tools and many people lacking Internet literacy leave people in a disadvantageous situation.

It is hard to say how and when this situation in Turkey is going to change, especially because we are seeing similar trends gaining traction elsewhere the world. Many people in Turkey just accept the situation and adjust their lives to it, instead of fighting back. Because we are living in a time in which we must struggle to defend the freedom to access information (and even information itself), the work of organizations such as IFLA becomes much more important and vital. Without our intellectual freedoms, we put everything we humans have created in danger.

Ahmet A. Sabancı is a freelance writer and journalist and a social critic who focuses on issues around internet, freedom of expression and information and technology. He’s also working to improve the situation of journalism in Turkey in the platform called NewsLabTurkey, of which he’s one of the co-founders and its Newsletter Editor.

Intellectual Freedom in Croatia

In 2019, FAIFE is marking the 20th anniversary of the Statement on Intellectual Freedom. Over the last few months, we have covered a series of contributions from FAIFE committee members highlighting various perspectives on intellectual freedom in different countries. Today, Davorka Pšenica – a Library Advisor at the Department of Croatian National Bibliography of the National and University Library in Zagreb – is presenting a perspective from Croatia.

1) What do you and your colleagues understand by ‘intellectual freedom’ in Croatia?

Intellectual freedom in the Republic of Croatia means the right to freedom of thought and expression, the freedom to promote ideas and beliefs, and the right of an individual to be informed.

The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia regulates the right to freedom of expression by the provision of Article 38 which reads: “Freedom of thought and expression shall be guaranteed. Freedom of expression shall particularly encompass freedom of the press and other media, freedom of speech and public opinion, and free establishment of all institutions of public communication. Censorship shall be forbidden. Journalists shall have the right to freedom of reporting and access to information. The right to access to information held by any public authority shall be guaranteed. Restrictions on the right to access to information must be proportionate to the nature of the need for such restriction in each individual case and necessary in a free and democratic society, as stipulate by law. The right to correction is guaranteed to anyone who constitutionally and legally established rights have been violated by public communication.”

2) How important an issue is it for libraries, and for the general population, in your country?

One of basic tasks of libraries in Croatia is to ensure free access to information to all citizens –this fundamental role is stated in all the main documents of the Croatian Library Association (CLA). It also underpins the activities of the CLA Committee for Free Access to Information and Freedom of Speech that for 20 years has organized roundtables on free access to information on International Human Rights Day.

At these roundtables, topics related to problems of free access to information, freedom of the media, freedom of speech and censorship, copyright, intellectual freedom and education, and transparency and openness of the organizational and socio-political system in Croatia have all been discussed at all levels.

It is important to highlight the efforts and involvement of the library community in a multi-year process of adopting the first Law on the Right of Access to Information in Croatia. The law was created due to encouragement of the academic community and civil society; its acceptance was preceded by a long-term public campaign led by a coalition of 17 non-governmental organizations, with the participation of the Croatian Library Association. The law has undergone a number of amendments and harmonization with relevant acts of the European Union and has been in force since 9 August 2015.

3) What have been the biggest questions and controversies in recent years?

In Croatia there is a problem of harmonization between, on the one hand, legal regulations concerning free access to information, freedom of the media and speech and regulations concerning free access to the internet, copyright protection, and on the other, a market-based, neoliberal economy that gives priority to capital and large companies. The neoliberal economy can, by introducing collection and citizens’ control systems, impair to a great extent free access to knowledge and information.

4) What do you think are the biggest challenges for intellectual freedom in the coming years?

The greatest challenges are those in the area of intellectual freedom protection, i.e. those relating to free access, accessibility and openness of information. More specifically, the business sector is not legally obliged to provide information to the public, that is, private companies and organizations are not subject to any legal obligation. Moreover, international institutions, such as the World Bank and other financial organizations, have their own rulebooks on providing information about their work.

The regulation of the right of access to information depends on individual national laws. For example, Freedom of Press Act of 1766 in the Kingdom of Sweden is regarded as the first law on the right of access to information. Acts introducing an obligation on public authorities to make their information available to the public mainly only date from the second half of the 20th century. The United Nations has encouraged drafting of the mentioned Acts on the grounds that the right to seek, receive and impart information also implies an obligation of states to allow access to information in their possession.

In Croatia the Right to Free Access to Information Act is a key anti-corruption tool requiring authorities, administration and the public sector to be responsible and report about their work to citizens, i.e. to report how they work, how much and what they spend public money for, how they make decisions, and who participates in this process.

This is how citizens and especially media and associations, as guardians of democracy and promoters of public interest, can hold the government and administration and make them remember they are here for citizens and for the public interest. Progress has been achieved at the level of the state administration, as the result, among other things, of bigger capacities to prepare, publish and provide information to the user. According to analyses, 60 to 80% of statutory information in Croatia is published, depending on the state institution.

The biggest problems appear in small municipalities, some of which continuously ignore citizens and fail to fulfill their legal obligations. This is a problem for public libraries too, because they depend on local authorities and therefore operate under harsh conditions in terms of limited procurement power, availability of library materials and information in the online environment. As a result of insufficient libraries funding and a lack of clearly expressed libraries policy, there is therefore a limit to the free flow of information flow more broadly.

5) What role do you see libraries playing in relation to intellectual freedom in 10 years’ time?

Librarians in Croatia are aware of the important role of libraries in promoting fundamental human rights such as intellectual freedom, freedom of thought and speech and the right to free access to information, but the state and local government’s support for, and understanding of, library programs and tasks is still insufficient.

That is why it is extremely important for the library community to take a proactive role in the society into the future, in terms of advocacy and lobbying for libraries and library programs as well as activities at all levels. This should include a focus on ensuring adequate funding for the acquisition of materials and equipment, and efforts to balance conditions under which different categories of users can use the library.

Librarians must actively and publicly advocate the defense of intellectual freedom whenever freedom is in danger of being limited or diminished. Intellectual freedom means the right to freedom of thought and expression, based on which the right of an individual to be informed is derived. The librarian must provide users with the information needed for communication about a topic and must actively prevent any attempt to obstruct a transfer of information to users.


You can read more about the work of Croatian libraries to promote access to information, intellectual freedom and other human rights in IFLA’s submission to the Universal Periodic Review in Croatia.