EDRI just issued a statement on a new Council of Europe Recommendation. The adopted recommendation seems more an outline how to suppress freedom of expression and information than to promote and protect it. Here is the statement (for more info go to EDRI’s page on the call for action):
European Digital Rights Statement and Call for Action – 10 October 2007
European Digital Rights (EDRI) wishes to express its serious concerns over the adoption on 26 September 2007 by the Council of Europe (CoE) Committee of Ministers of a new Recommendation on ‘promoting freedom of expression and information in the new information and communications environment’ (Rec(2007)11).
The Recommendation has been prepared by the Council of Europe Group of Specialists on Human Rights in the Information Society (MC-S-IS). It has been proposed and discussed by members of this group since December 2005. It was originally intended to be an instrument to ‘further elaborate principles and guidelines to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law in the information society’. The text eventually turned into a set of ‘guidelines on the ethical roles and responsibilities for key state and non-state actors’, to be promoted through this Recommendation by the Council of Europe. Its final draft has further been amended by the Steering Committee on the Media and New Communication Services (CDMC), under which authority the MC-S-IS operates, and then submitted to the Committee of Ministers.
EDRI participated in the debate in its capacity of independent non-governmental observer to the MC-S-I-S group, without the right to vote. However, few EDRI’s contributions, either during meetings or through written comments and proposed amendments, were taken into account in the final document.
We consider the result to be promoting opaque “self-regulation” and other soft law instruments driven by private interests and implemented through technical mechanisms. As a result, we have great concern that the Recommendation will fail to uphold respect for freedom of expression and information in the online world.
The Recommendation also raises specific concerns, most notably over its part II (‘Common standards and strategies for reliable information, flexible content creation and transparency in the processing of information’).
It refers to ‘reliable information’ or content and this is little different from the “official information” of the bad old days. It is hardly compatible with the promotion of freedom of expression and information, which is the purpose of this document.
Moreover, this section calls for balancing freedom of expression and communication with the rights of others to have their ‘values and sensibilities’ respected. As “values and sensibilities” vary not only from time to time and from place to place, but also among different sections of the population, this is certainly against the general CoE background, and in any case goes far beyond the restrictions identified in Article 10 paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as stressed by the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights numerous times.
Furthermore, and in order to strike such a balance, section II of the Recommendation calls for the development by the private sector and member States of tools and standards for the rating and labelling of content and services.
EDRI regrets that the CoE encourages such trend over transparent and accountable public policies as well as binding legislation respectful of fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law.
EDRI considers this Recommendation to be damaging and a retrograde step for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. EDRI is deeply concerned that such instruments will be used to legitimize subtle means of censorship, through privatised censorship and measures to protect against so-called harmful content.
EDRI will continue to participate to the MC-S-I-S group as an active independent observer, and will continue to raise awareness of the public on issues related to the group mandate. With other instruments being prepared by the same MC-S-I-S group, there is a risk that the trend shown in this Recommendation be confirmed. To better avoid such a risk, EDRI needs your support.