7 May 2003
Karin Spaink is an external adviser for a conference on freedom of expression on the Internet being organized by the OSCE Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media. (OSCE)
Karin Spaink is a writer and columnist who has been closely following developments on the Internet since 1994. Known for her staunch defence of freedom of speech, she has written much about the Internet and is chairing Bits Of Freedom, a Dutch privacy and civil rights organization. Since August 2002, she has been working for the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media as an external expert. She also contributed to the booklet "From Quill to Cursor", papers from a preparatory workshop held in Vienna.
Why is the Internet important to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media?
Journalism is slowly changing face. The net has become an important and accessible medium to publish and share information, and while all kinds of 'old' journalistic outlets -newspapers, TV and radio stations - have found their place, new kinds of journalism are emerging too. Reports from individuals from all over the world about their political and social situation have become comparatively readily accessible and are no longer dependent on the mediation of a newspaper or a broadcasting company to reach other people. This means that there is a wider range of voices to be heard. And the most interesting aspect of all this is that the Internet knows no borders: dispersed refugees can co-operate on a net publication, which in turn can be accessed by their former countrymen.
People who are persecuted for their web pages need our support of just as much as people who are prosecuted for their work in the traditional media. After all, one type of journalism merits as much protection as the other.
You also claim that censorship is changing shape.
Indeed. New types of censorship are emerging that the Representative on Freedom of the Media needs to address. Novel techniques such as content-filtering software, DNS-overtaking and imposed IP-blocking are much more complex than old-fashioned censorship, and perhaps more difficult to understand, but they still entail censorship.
Is it not only governments that censor?
Indeed. By now, upstream providers -basically, they are the ones providing global connectivity - sometimes have their own rules, in addition to national legislation to which they are subject. And while citizens of other countries do not need to abide by foreign national law, nor do their own providers, upstream providers by now often impose their law upon their clients, thereby in effect exporting national law. And when companies make their own rules, it's much more difficult to fight it. It is not censorship as we have grown to define it, yet, it definitely is censorship.
To quite some degree, governments and supra-national bodies promote self-regulation by companies, hoping that they will set boundaries to content on the net. I am not at all happy about that. What is fundamentally wrong with self-regulation is that it allows governments to refuse to set rules and limits and to delegate the matter to a private body, hoping thus to solve the issue. In doing so, governments are privatising censorship, without assuming responsibility and accountability for it themselves, and without offering legal redress for either those censored or for those robbed of access to censored content.