Openness: In the activist’s eye
ATHENS, Greece -- “What we see is the research for a balance between freedom and restrictions,” said Markus Kummer, Executive Coordinator of the UN Secretariat on Internet Governance. He was describing the first debate on “openness” that hit the first-ever Internet Governance Forum, in Athens.
What’ at stake, in his view, is the clash between those that advocate for the article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and those clinging to article 28 that “imposes restrictions and limitations on the freedom of information,” he commented in a press briefing on Tuesday October 31.
Openness is one in four topics to top the list of crucial issues being tackled in Athens as part of the discussions around the future of the internet. The private sector, governments and civil society are coming together for four days in the southern Athenian suburb of Vouliagmeni and during which they ambition to share visions that are often at odds with each others’.
China in the activist’s eye
The session on ‘openness’ also saw China become the target of strong criticism by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other civil society groups denouncing what they see as heavy-handed controls of the internet. Bloggers and journalists are being arrested and intimidated on a daily basis in China because of the political positions they voice.
The debate about national laws and human rights is not new. With the expansion of any kind of media, such as the radio in the 1920s, free speech advocates and “governments censors” have collided.
The twist this IGF is giving to this old debate about ‘openness’ makes it that more relevant since it calls into life a confrontation, not only involving national law, but also market law. This is why corporations like Google have been taken for a ride at the IGF by those arguing that it is unacceptable that this advertisement firm - know for its flagship research engine - started operations in China, where restrictions on free speech are, to say the least, restrictive.
The Chinese delegate at the IGF fired back to the critics arguing that China, as a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights respects article 19 but that China also has its own laws, that are often infringed upon by journalists.
Google - along with a few other business entities - was singled out during the debate, but retaliated in insisting that in engaging in doing business in China, it’s contributing much more to the democratic development of Chinese society than otherwise.
Clash of logics
Joichi Ito from Creative Commons Japan referred to young people using the internet in creative ways and labelled this as a new way to exercise freedom of expression. The Association for Progressive Communications added that existing copyright and intellectual property laws were not adapted to the age of the internet.
There was talk about governments’ responsibility to provide access to its information. In the end though, what can be distilled from this debate, is that “it was not a real discussion, but much more a clash of logics,” said Kummer.
Compared to the previous encounters leading up to the IGF, especially the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process, Kummer believes that the issues were never discussed in so much substance. That might rightly be an improvement. Not only are the entrenched positions about freedom and control of the internet known, they are now also being argued about.
When asked what is expected from this forum at the end of the week, Kummer simply said: “The value of the meeting is the meeting itself. There will be no negotiated outcome.” He also asked a question of his own: “How will it go further? To be frank, we don’t know yet?”
To follow the meeting, proceedings can be found on the IGF’s website: http://www.intgovforum.org/
Photo credit: Mihaly Bako
Carlos Afonso from APC-member RITS and Anriette Esterhuysen of APC, two panellists on the panel on 'openness'.
Author: --- (FD for APCNews)
Contact: frederic [at] apc.org
Location: ATHENS, Greece
Category: Internet Governance