Bits and Pieces

Friday, December 17, 2004

Europe Wants Editorial Control of Blogs

Via Captain's Quarters:

The Council of Europe has called on its 46 member-states to introduce legislation on the right of reply to correct false information on online media.

It said the Committee of (Foreign) Ministers, executive of the European human rights watchdog body, had adopted a recommendation on the right to reply for online Internet media.

This recommended that members consider introducing legislation on the "right of reply or any other equivalent remedy, which allows a rapid correction of incorrect information in online or off-line media......"

A statement said the recommendation "urges member-states to extend the right to reply which until now applied to the written press, radio and television, to online communication services providing information edited in a journalistic manner."

"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one."

I'm not so sure about this. I can understand the concept behind right to reply in the mainstream media. TV news and the print media are generally accepted to be unbiased reporters of news taken, for the most part, at face value by their viewers/readers. If by online media they're referring to blogs (which seems a distinct likelihood) I'm not getting on board with that one bit.

Before I start bitching, I'm surprised this has been proposed at all. After all, Belarus was suspended from the Council in January 1997, partly due to the constraints on its free press brought about by changes in their constitution under the regime of President Lukashenko.

Anyway... Sortapundit isn't exactly the sort of blog that would be affected by such legislation. I don't typically talk about much in the way of news, and I fail to see a situation in which any government would demand a right to reply to any of my posts. Besides, I live in the UK. We have a fairly secure government who shouldn't be too worried with any amount of lies I posted here. No, what I'm concerned about are bloggers living in Eastern European member states, whose governments tend to be more transitory and political upheaval more likely. The present worry: Ukraine. In a nation in which 100,000 protest in the streets against electoral fraud; a nation where opposition leaders are poisoned, what could be more important than the right to unimpeded speech? What could be more intrusive than the government invading a private website to denounce your words, imposing their propaganda on your property?

Captain Ed:

Of course, I do not reside within any of the 46 member-states of the CoE, but a number of high-quality bloggers do -- and this appears to give governments the right to hijack their virtual press to publish state-sponsored propaganda.

But is Ed safely tucked away outside the Council of Europe? Perhaps not. After all, the US holds observer status at the Committee of Ministers, a CoE institution. Who can say which initiatives the US would decide to pick up on? Of course, this recommendation has no legal force, but it paves the way for legislation in the future, legislation that gives politicians more power. As we all know, the last thing you want to do with politicians is give them more power, no?

If you take issue with that - if you believe politicians need more power - look back at the paragraph I highlighted in bold up there. That wasn't part of the original text. Those are the words of Hitler in a speech to the Reichstag on March 23 1933, immediately before they went to vote on the Enabling Act. We should bear that in mind when we consider initiatives such as this.


Talking about regulation of blogs, CBS's David Paul Kuhn worries himself silly about the New Media (hat tip: Powerline), while blatantly rewriting political reality.
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