Discussing Online Free Expression in Budapest

«Online Free Expression: values, progress and complexities»

This pannel took place at the Internet at Liberty conference in Budapest (September 20-22)


«Online free expression is a double-edged sword», was how Dunia Mijatovic, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, started her talk. She insisted on the fact that we are at a dramatic turning point, since Internet has changed the way we relate, positively affecting the defense of diversity but also posing challenges in different areas.

She focused on threatened voices in countries with unstable governments: Bloggers in prison, journalists killed in many parts of the world… Two bloggers from Acerbajan are in jail for having a critical blog. Human rights defenders are working on the cases related to media and Internet freedom but no matter the agreements or conventions, if governments don´t want to comply there is not much that can be done.

Merve Alici, from the Turkish Young Civilians association, presented the situation of Internet censorship in Turkey. Over 2000 sides are banned in the country: Youtube, Myspace, and many others. Censorship against pornography has lead to censorship at a bigger scale, within a trend that bans sites that are found obscene by some people. Alici insisted that we have to fight a mindset instead of Internet censorship.

Hungary, where the conference is hosted, is a new democracy. Eva Simon, from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, said Internet content is regulated within the country on the base of some public moral requirements and avoiding harming the Church or minorities. At the European Union level, Net Neutrality keeps civil rights issues separate from the debate and bases it on competitiveness. But competitiveness critera fall short of the complexity of the issues raised by Net Neutrality.

Mijatovic also added that it is difficult to make a general judgement on the state of Internet freedom. Countries with existent democracies and high Internet penetration rates are often at the forefront of Copyright protection and cybersecurity, and antiterrorism legislation is used to impose vague laws that restrict Internet freedom. Therefore, how to ensure that the Internet remains pluralistic and allows for a variety of opinions? Raed Jarrar, from the American Friends Service Committee, raised the question on who would be entitled to impose a certain legislation on other countries. Dunia Mijatovic´s answer was «the people», the citizens themselves, although she made it clear that criticizing other countries legislation is valid, it does not imply interfering with internal agenda and it stands with freedom of speech.

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