The Internet should remain free and access should be considered a human right, said the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović at the presentation of a report on regulations affecting new media in the OSCE region today.
The study, commissioned by the office of the Representative and authored by Yaman Akdeniz, a professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, measures the level of Internet content regulation in the OSCE area and assesses national laws in light of OSCE commitments and international standards of free expression and access to information.
The Study on legal provisions and practices related to freedom of expression, the free flow of information and media pluralism on the Internet is the first ever OSCE-wide review of laws regulating the Internet. Mijatović said the rapid development of Internet technologies and growth in user numbers were factors that inspired the report, which offers recommendations on how to keep the Internet open.
‘We will use the study as an advocacy tool to promote speech-friendly Internet regulation in the OSCE participating States,’ Mijatović said. ‘Some governments already recognize access to the Internet as a human right. This trend should be supported as a crucial element of media freedom in the 21st century.’
The study found that some participating States had problems submitting information for the study because legal provisions or relevant statistics were not easily retrievable. It also emphasizes that this lack of clarity makes it difficult for users to understand Internet regulation regimes.
Akdeniz expressed concern about the level of blocking practices encountered in the OSCE region. ‘Restrictions to freedom of expression must comply with international norms. No compliance could lead to censorship,’ he said.
The Representative highlighted other key trends revealed in the survey. ‘Legislation in many countries does not recognize that freedom of expression and freedom of the media equally apply to Internet as a modern means of exercising these rights and in some of our states, ‘extremism’, terrorist propaganda, harmful content and hate speech are vaguely defined and may be widely interpreted to ban speech types that Internet users may not deem illegal,’ Mijatović said.
The study argues that filtering and blocking measures are in most cases incompatible with freedom of expression and the free flow of information, both of which are basic OSCE commitments.
It is also a concern that several countries allow for complete suspension of Internet services at times of war, in a state of emergency and in response to other security threats, added Mijatović.