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Press freedom organisations issue resolution on Internet governance

(WPFC/IFEX) - The following is a resolution on Internet governance passed by members of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, meeting in Belgrade for World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2004. The organisations that have signed on to the resolution are listed below:



The members of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations at their meeting on 1 May 2004 in Belgrade, issued the following statement on Internet Governance:

It is becoming increasingly clear that so-called "governance," management and administration of the Internet will be the central issue in preparations for the second World Summit on the Information Society. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was mandated to direct a study incorporating the views of diverse interests to be produced in time for WSIS II, scheduled for Tunis, Tunisia, in November 2005.

Civil society caucuses are already exchanging message traffic on how to determine their positions. Many of those groups have histories of favoring content controls. Any proposals that threaten press freedom on the Internet, whatever the source, should be rejected.

It was clear at WSIS I that there was a general feeling among member-states, including US allies in the European Union, that "Internet governance" should not be the exclusive preserve of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a California-based company under contract to the US Commerce Dept. ICANN has allocated Internet domain names on a neutral, technical basis. It has included industry, NGOs and international representation in its governing board and committees.

Governments which want to turn responsibility over to an international body, presumably in the UN system, want to go beyond technical matters to deal with content questions, like pornography, pedophilia, fraud, hate speech, etc., in a way that ICANN has refrained from doing. The Council of Europe's Cybercrime Convention points the way governments seem to be headed. The United States signed that Convention, but it has a separate protocol on "hate speech" that was designed to give the United States the option not to sign onto an element that would clearly violate the US Constitution's First Amendment.

Under the US-accepted compromise of a two-year UN study to submit recommendations to WSIS II, a process has begun that will probably produce a UN proposal for modifications of the Internet governance system. A role for ICANN should be preserved as part of any new system that may emerge under UN auspices. Supporters of a free and open Internet should be able, with the backing of allies like the UN Department of Information and Communications and the UNESCO Secretariat, to resist any changes that threaten the free flow of information and ideas on the Internet.

"Governance" must not be allowed to become a code word for government regulation of Internet content. The intergovernmental debates over two years of preparations for WSIS I amply demonstrated that authoritarian governments, which already censor their own Internet traffic, seek content controls internationally and/or legitimization of such controls nationally. The system must not be reorganized to permit this on an international level or encourage it at the national level.

In fact, the Internet's growth, popularity and integrity are based on its content not being regulated by governments or international organizations. Bearing in mind that the Declaration adopted December 12, 2003, at the World Summit in Geneva provided that "freedom of the press and freedom of information are essential to the Information Society," the following principles should guide any changes in the Internet governance system:

1. There should be no controls over content, nor modifications of the Internet's technical "architecture" that facilitate or permit censorship of news or editorial opinion. Nor should "self-regulation" be allowed to become a surrogate for governmental regulation of content on the Internet.

2. The system should explicitly commit itself to respect and to implement Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to the fundamental principle of press freedom. National or international security concerns must not be allowed to limit freedom of expression, including news and editorial comment, in cyberspace.

3. Considerations of "ethics" should not be allowed to become a veiled approach to introducing or allowing censorship.

4. There are many forms of communication over the Internet, and it is important not to confuse them. News, for example, is different from such things as pornography, pedophilia, fraud, conspiracy for terrorism, incitement to violence, hate speech, etc., although there may be newsstories about such problems. Such matters are normally covered in existing national general legislation and should, if appropriate and necessary, be prosecuted on the national level in the country of origin.

5. Any legal actions that may arise should be adjudicated in the jurisdiction where a disputed message first originated, or in a single jurisdiction agreed upon by the parties to any given dispute.

The Internet is a major opportunity to improve exchanges of information and ideas throughout the world. Nothing should be allowed to restrict this powerful new medium for better communications among people.

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