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Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and
ICRA Roundtable Brussels "Mission Impossible”
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am glad to have this opportunity to set out briefly what the Commission is doing to protect child safety while upholding the principle of freedom of expression.
In April this year the Commission set out its priorities for implementing the international policy commitments made at the successful World Summit on Information Society (Tunis, 16-18 November 2005). These priorities include safeguarding and strengthening human rights, in particular freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and access information.
I said then "The European Union must be at the forefront of an open, accessible and undivided worldwide Information Society and of a free exchange of information, ideas and opinions around the globe".
The Commission welcomed the clear and unequivocal statement of the World Summit on the primary importance of the information society for democracy and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; in particular the freedom of expression and opinion, as well as the freedom to receive and access information.
It is nevertheless important to remember that free speech does have limits. This is true in all democratic countries as seen, for example, in laws against defamation of a person’s reputation.
There may well be disagreements between America and Europe about where exactly to draw the line – US treatment of “hate speech” as protected speech unless it is a direct incitement to physical violence, and the laws several European countries against denying the historical reality of the Holocaust are probably the most visible examples of this.
However, if you take a broader world view, the similarities of approach in democratic countries are obviously much greater than the differences. The same cannot be said for all countries
As you may know, not long ago I was in Beijing to discuss the Information Society. I took the opportunity to underline the importance of freedom of speech. However, it was quite clear that in too many countries, governments have very different views about it, particularly when it comes to allowing people to criticise the government.
That is why in its Communication in April the Commission noted with concern the cases of cyber-repression: that is the misuse of ICT by repressive regimes to restrict the free flow of information on the Internet. The Commission encouraged the companies concerned to work on a code of conduct on this crucial issue, in close cooperation with NGOs.
Even though the Commission feels strongly about freedom of expression and freedom of the media, we also believe strongly in industry taking a pro-active role in dealing with the issue of protection of minors when using old and new media. Industry has a great opportunity to show how it can provide parents with the necessary information and tools so that they can decide what content they do not wish their children to be confronted with. A good example is the PEGI classification system for videogames that has been put in place by the industry.
Self-regulation works best when it has a clear legal framework to support it – that is what is meant by “co-regulation”. A co-regulatory system is one where public authorities accept that the protection of societal values can be left to self-regulatory mechanisms and codes of conduct, but where they reserve the right to step in in case that self-regulation should prove to be inefficient.
The Commission has proposed last December a modernisation of the TV without Frontiers directive to take account of the convergence of technologies. This is now a reality for consumers. The same content can be delivered over different platforms – it is now possible to watch football World Cup highlights on a mobile phone. Convergence is changing the marketplace – many Europeans are subscribing to “quadruple play”, where the same provider offers a single subscription for television, broadband Internet, fixed landline and mobile phone.
This is why the Commission has proposed that there should be certain basic rules which should be applicable to all audiovisual content services, whatever the delivery platform – whether free-to-air television, cable or satellite TV, or the increasing variety of services available over the Internet and mobile phones.
• protection of minors,
• prohibition of incitement to hatred,
• identification of the media service provider,
• identification of commercial communication,
• prohibition of surreptitious advertising
• clear rules on product placement and sponsoring, and
• some qualitative restrictions on advertising (e.g. for alcohol or advertising targeted at minors).
Let me underline one crucial point about the modernisation of the Television without Frontiers Directive: This Directive is not about new restrictive provisions but about giving effect to the freedoms of the Treaty and a consistent implementation of fundamental rights in a media world without technological borders. One of the basic principles of the European Union is, indeed, freedom of expression and hence the fundamental importance of media freedom and media pluralism. This right is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as well as in the European Convention on Human Rights. The new Directive on Audiovisual Media Services, once adopted, will give effect to this right. It is now for the representatives of Europe’s citizens in the European Parliament and in the Council to debate these proposals and to decide. I firmly believe that they strike the right balance.
Let me stress that the new proposal encourages explicitly co- and self-regulatory regimes, particularly for non-linear services – such as is typical in the Internet where the user decides what content to receive from what is available, and when. The sole condition for these regimes to replace regulatory instruments is that they are broadly accepted by stakeholders and provide for effective enforcement.
The ICRA-system could very well become such an accepted co-regulatory system. I do not need to remind you that in November 2004, the System „ICRAdeutschland“ has already been admitted as such a co-regulated form of self-regulation for a test trial of 18 months by the German Commission for the Protection of Minors. I am confident that also at EU level, the new and unique openness of the modernised Television without Frontiers Directive to co-regulation will encourage ICRA and other self-regulatory bodies to work towards recognition in all EU Member States.
The Commission has not only proposed legislation laying down rules for audiovisual service providers: it firmly believes that rating and labelling of content combined with media literacy and technological solutions, such as user controlled filtering, are key tools to address these important issues. This is the reason why the -Directorate General for Information Society and Media has initiated a new expert group on audiovisual media literacy, from which I expect the identification of best practices.
The necessary mix of self- and co-regulation, of technical measures and of media literacy initiative is reflected as well in the 1998 Recommendation on Protection of minors in the online environment, which offers guidelines for the development of national self-regulation regarding the protection of minors and human dignity. Self-regulation is based on three key elements: first, the involvement of all the interested parties (Government, industry, service and access providers, user associations) in the production of codes of conduct; secondly, the implementation of codes of conduct by the industry; thirdly, the evaluation of measures taken. The Commission has proposed to modernise the 1998 Recommendation – the new text is now close to adoption by the European Parliament and Council. It builds upon the original 1998 Recommendation, which remains valid, in order to be able to keep up with the challenges which technological developments. Among topics covered are media literacy or media education programmes; and cooperation and the sharing of experience and good practices between regulatory and self-regulatory bodies, which deal with the rating or classification of audiovisual content.
The Safer Internet programme provides funding for two European networks – the network of hotlines which allow reporting illegal content and the awareness-raising network which provides information for parents teachers and children on how to use the Internet safely. An important part of the awareness-raising is Safer Internet Day, of which I am the patron. This is an annual event which has now been celebrated 3 times involving in 37 countries. Safer Internet Day 2007 will involve yet more countries and organisations, with a large number of awareness raising events, including one which the Commission will organise in Brussels. Last, the Safer Internet Forum provides a platform for stakeholders to discuss issues of using new media safely and to look for common approaches.
I wish you fruitful discussions here in Brussels, both in the interest of freedom of expression and of the efficient protection of minors.