Where should freedom of expression stop? Or should it stop, at all?

By | June 28, 2012

“Does more need to be done to safeguard media freedom and pluralism? Who should do it? And what are the best tools to use?”

Like most hackers, I think the answer is a resounding YES. The ancient expression, 'The pen is mightier than the sword', indeed has truth: Governments across the world consistently censor the press before making military moves. Book burning has been repeated across the centuries to destroy unwanted ideas from propagating. And, with content being digitalized, this desire to control and destroy knowledge is desperately trying to propagate with it.

It also means we have some important decisions, as a society, to make: how far should we allow authorities to control free thought, and spreading of ideas? I'm not sure there is a clear answer to that question. I do think that the Scandinavians are closer to an answer than any of the rest of us are, but even they do not have a perfect solution.

Reshared post from +EuroTech

The Media Industry: Record Labels’ New Enemy?
Digital Strategy: The future of media in Europe
by +Sophie Wrobel, +EuroTech; Germany

Some of the things the media industry wants to get rid of: 
• ‘This video is not available in your country’ messages
• Blocks and limitations to music  streaming services
• High mobile roaming charges 
• Hidden volume caps on high-speed data plans

Sounds too good to be true? It’s what the Media Futures Forum, comprised of 25 big players in the European media industry, presented yesterday in their answer to European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes, who asked:

“I want to know what the Commission can do to facilitate media's contribution to our democracy and economic growth. The digital revolution is turning media upside down: how can we use the digital Single Market and other tools to capture the potential of this new dynamic?”

Unlike public sentiment blaming the content industry for demanding protection of their dinosaur business models, the report suggests that the media and content industry is actually interested in a pro-innovation stance. The forum responded:

“[T]he media and content industry should have the interests of the consumers at the centre of its activities … Europe’s success … will depend on our capacity to innovate, pioneer and embrace new business models instead of clinging to old ways of thinking.”

That would imply that the content producers, the media industry, and consumers are all standing on the same page. So why is it still so hard to get a working content production-consumption economy onto its feet?

Analysis of the current situation
The resulting report consists of eight pain points and proposed solutions aimed at blurring traditional boundaries between IT, communication, and the media world. 

1. It is still much harder to export digital goods than physical goods.
Recommendation: Unify divergent national practices in particular on protection of personal data, consumer rights, taxation, mobile payments and from a lack of an integrated postal and delivery market.

2. Internet opportunities rely on the possibly of using personal data, but Europeans are still too protective about their data.
Recommendation: Promote new business models that are developed on the basis of appropriate information, transparency, choice and user friendly approaches which safeguard privacy while delivering key consumer benefits.

3. Business can only continue to produce content if the monetary reward (payment) is fairly shared between players in the value chain.
Recommendation: Introduce respect for the integrity of programming as well as content; collective, inter-industry regulation on competitive remuneration; and an EU-wide micro-payment system. Additionally, introduce a quality journalism prize, similar to the Pulitzer Prize.

4. European content exports are hampered by cultural and linguistic specifics and diverging public support policies.
Recommendation: Introduce a financial support program for creating and distributing audiovisual works beyond national/regional borders. Harmonize access to venture capital across member states, and finally, fund research into technologies that help overcome linguistic barriers and improve content production and distribution.

5. Online and offline broadcasters, telecoms and information service providers are subject to different rules in the same marketplace.
Recommendation: Provide equitable regulatory and fiscal principles whenever economic players compete – online or offline, and inside or outside the EU.

6. Competition rules have not kept pace with disruptive changes in the Internet.
Recommendation: Monitor developments in the online and offline environment, and cause competent authorities to take effective action when such developments threaten competition and/or innovation. 

7. EU Citizens are not treated equally due to websites being blocked because you are situated in a particular country. Similarly, content acquired in one country may not be accessible in another country.
Recommendation: Industry must commit to develop legal content offerings that can be consumed regardless of geographic location and from any device. This needs to be supported by regulation leading to justifiable data roaming prices and clarity on net-neutrality, in particular preventing anti-competitive practices, establishing fundamental Internet rights, and increased transparency.

8. Content distribution and consumption is hampered by lack of high-speed Internet access.
Recommendation: Provide EU citizens with high-speed fixed and mobile network connections. This must be supported by a pro-competitive, pro-investment policy framework which incentivize the huge investments needed in these next generation networks.

Neelie Kroes accepted a request to meet actor Hugh Grant (pictured below) last night to discuss his concerns about failure of media self-regulation in UK and the need to protect media pluralism. Kroes accepted that self-regulation had indeed failed in the UK but also warned that too much regulation or the wrong regulation can also have terrible effects (recalling the situation in Hungary, for example).

EC Vice-President Kroes discussed these recommendations in a speech at the European Parliament today:

“Yes, we need more innovation; yes, we need more fast broadband. And yes, we need the rules and mentality to try out new business models; models with the scale needed for pan-European success. Because, in a tough global market, these technologies can give a much-needed boost to the media sector. And in fact to almost every other sector, too.”

On governments and the media:
“… I don't want to rush to regulation. In some cases regulation can support freedom. But if our aim is to separate the media from governments or parliaments, then the risk is that regulation does exactly the opposite. In recent cases, NGOs, journalists and Members of Parliament complained that we did not have sufficient power or that we did not intervene enough in this area. Well, they would be the first to complain if we ended up with too much power, or intervened too much. And rightly so.”

And the important questions are:
“Does more need to be done to safeguard media freedom and pluralism? Who should do it? And what are the best tools to use?”

The EU Media Futures Forum: ec.europa.eu/information_society/media_taskforce/pluralism/forum/index_en.htm

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One thought on “Where should freedom of expression stop? Or should it stop, at all?

  1. Greg Hammond

    This is good. Let's see how far they can go with this, and how quickly they can accomplish it. There are many aspects of the OLD GUARD who continue to seek control over a system which is increasingly resistant to such forms of control. Also, we need more of this kind of rational, open thinking in the USA. We are so far behind the Europeans and Asians with regard to mobile technology (specifically, the ridiculous data plans and pricing offered by carriers), it's sad. Before you know it, Africa will have leap-frogged us in mobile.


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