Hundreds of Mexican judges, lawyers take online course on freedom of expression offered by UNESCO and Knight Center

Nearly 1,000 Mexican judges, lawyers and other operators of justice participated in an online course on issues of freedom of expression and journalist safety offered by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in association with UNESCO and in close cooperation with the UNESCO Office in Mexico.

The course, “International Framework of Freedom of Expression and Protection of Journalists,” was offered during a period of five weeks, from November 3 to December 7, 2014. It was a pilot project that now can be offered in other Latin American countries or regions.

More than half of the 932 active participants of the course said they work in courts, tribunals and other offices of the Mexican government’s judicial branch, including 99 judges. Certificates of completion were issued for 260 participants who requested the certificate, after a careful verification to confirm that they fulfilled the minimum requirements of the course.

Catalina Botero, Frank La Rue and Miguel Rábago Dorbecker were the instructors of this special Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Botero recently left the position of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States (OAS), while La Rue has just completed his term as Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression at the United Nations. Rábago Dorbecker is Professor of Law at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City and has specialized in human rights.

Professor Margarita Torres, who teaches journalism at Iberoamerican University, acted as a moderator in the intense conversation among the discussion forums of the MOOC. The participants posted 5,000 contributions to forums and the MOOC site was visited 82,000 times during the course.

The Supreme Court of Mexico and the Mexican Association of Imparters of Justice supported this initiative of UNESCO and the Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin by recommending judges and other justice operators to take the course.

This project also had the active support and participation of the UNESCO Chair at Iberoamerican University, led by professor Manuel Alejandro Guerrero Martínez.

The course focused on issues related to the international legal framework established by the United Nations and the Organization of American States, related to freedom of expression. It also emphasized questions related to the safety of journalists and the efforts to punish crimes against media workers.

“This project has been a great success, reaching more judges and other justice operators from Mexico than we initially thought,” said professor Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where he holds the UNESCO Chair in Communication. “We are grateful to the UNESCO Office in Mexico for making this project possible, to all participants of the course and to the Mexican Supreme Court that was instrumental in recommending the program.”

This IPDC MOOC project “exposed the interest of the Mexican justice system to approach the international standard on this matter,” said Nuria Sanz, Director and Representative of the UNESCO Office in Mexico.  “It has proven to be fundamental as a formation tool for other key actors related to the work and role of journalists in Mexico.”

The Knight Center received more that 1,200 applications for the MOOC, but selected only judges, officials of the judiciary, lawyers from private and public sectors and other operators of justice in Mexico. There were 932 active participants in the course.

The majority of the active participants (596) were judicial officers from Mexican courts and tribunals; 117 were lawyers or members of bar associations; 99 worked in legal areas of the executive branches; and the remaining participants were law students or lawyers working for non-governmental organizations.

Along with the 99 judges who participated in the course, 224 secretaries of judges and courts, 58 judicial advisors, 52 bailiffs, 40 directors of judicial offices, 19 public defenders and a few hundred lawyers engaged in the course.

The course highlighted media independence and pluralism as fundamental to the process of democracy by providing advisory services on media legislation and by making judges, lawyers and other decision-makers aware of the need to guarantee freedom of expression.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.