The Office was created in 1997 as the only governmental media watchdog. In practice, reminding the members about their commitments is not an easy task. Freespeech and other challenges of the media are brought to my attention on a daily basis.
It is high time to ask ourselves whether the internet is really for everyone and where are we heading with it. When the internet was created there were two questions – how to control and regulate it and who should do it? Lines were drawn between repressive and open regimes.
Privacy, piracy, security, sovereignty – the division between these issues is ever increasing. The first issue is about the (geographical) boundaries and the challenges the internet brings to our classical understanding of same, the second is piracy and ownership, the third is privacy, which allows dissent but also gives cover for criminal behaviour, and lastly security, where the internet allows for hacking and surveillance.
There are many questions we are currently asking ourselves. The important thing is that the discussion has to continue. What is freedom of online expression and how do we understand it, what are the hopes and fears about the internet at the time of great change, and how can the internet support the desire for universal freedom? As the internet spreads, so do the technical tools of censorship. But at the same time it can be low-tech. Every day online bloggers and tweeters and others are persecuted, jailed and tortured. This is something that freedom-loving countries should not forget.
The argument for freedom on the net is a double-edged sword that creates a lot of emotion. The right to freedom of expression has a crucial role to protect all other human rights in the world through the advancement of communications technologies.
It will not be enough to provide citizens with a connection. For consumers to become netizens it is important to understand information and how it is processed. The technological outreach has to go hand in hand with education.
What we are seeing is that governments are putting enormous financial resources into repressing, blocking and filtering different content. There are also countries that are selling this equipment to authoritarian regimes in order to repress their citizens.
Too often we take these freedoms for granted. Too often we only know how crucial these rights are once we are deprived of them. In the 21st century, we still need to fight for people to freely express themselves. For so many countries, it is still extremely dangerous to be a journalist or blogger, it is very dangerous to run a website or comment on something.
Why do certain governments try to block? To protect us (terrorism, data protection and so on), but if you look at the cases, it is more to do with silencing voices.
There is no security without a free flow of information. How to find a way to protect societies without restricting the freedom of expression is one of the key questions.
The violence against journalists is a direct attack on the freedom of expression and is the reason why I put so much work into this issue. Governments should give their full political support to promoting a safe way of doing journalism. The question is not whether government should or should not regulate. The question is what for?
The good news is that there are opportunities for like-minded governments (and I recommend Estonia in this field). This dialogue needs to continue.