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Preventing A New World Internet Order

If anyone needs another reason why the UN should not be in charge of the internet, they need look no further than the upcoming UNESCO conference on “Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace.” The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization conference will discuss “whether universal free expression standards should be applied to the Internet and how free expression can be protected while respecting individual privacy, national laws and cultural differences.” The conference is being held in preparation for the second phase of the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).” The fact that UNESCO is considering whether “universal free expression standards” should be applied to the internet speaks volumes.

UNESCO was the organization that previously championed a New World Information and Communications Order that supported greater state control over the media. Due to the UN organization’s budgetary mismanagement and radical political agenda, the United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984. Although the US has since rejoined the organization, concerns regarding UNESCO’s intentions remain. For example, a major human rights group organization boycotted a UNESCO conference last year over concerns that the UN group was censoring their message.

However, the issue for US policy officials is not whether UNESCO is pro or anti-censorship at any given moment, but rather how to prevent the internet from being subject to censorship, irrespective of “cultural differences” or other political concerns.

A July 2003 article in The Miami Herald titled “Cuba, Iran seek global Internet censorship rules,” explains why WSIS has the potential to pose a fundamental danger to international electronic freedom of expression. As the article notes, the “key issue at the conference will be whether the international community condemns or endorses the ‘fire walls’ that many dictatorships are erecting to block access to Internet websites that they consider politically inconvenient… ‘Cuba is proposing language that would favor state control of the media,’ U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organizations Kim R. Holmes said in an interview. ‘There is reason to be concerned.’”

UNESCO is free to hold as broad-ranging a debate as they please on internet content or any other topic. It is the duty of the United States to help ensure that the world’s population enjoys a similar freedom.

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Phil Howard  –  Jan 18, 2005 10:13 PM

I don’t understand why these few countries feel they need to propose global rules.  They seem to be doing it internally within their own countries, anyway.  I’m sure they would want to resist any global effort to open them up.  But I don’t see what they would gain by having such censorship done globally, other than saving them the cost of doing all that work.  Oh wait; maybe that’s it ... they want us to do their dirty work for them.

Ian Peter  –  Jan 31, 2005 1:20 AM

I was going to let this pass, but really the characterisation of the UN as some distant enemy of freedom is a bit too insular and the interpretation of the NWICO debates of the early 1980s in this article may be patriotic, but this interpretation is unusual, inaccurate, and hard to derive from the original debate.

Read the Macbride Report of 1983 (published by UNESCO as Many Voices One World) and I doubt you could come to the conclusions this article does. The UNESCO Report that came to be known as the NWICO advanced some very important principles - the right to communicate as a basic human right, and the concept that mass media should exist for the development of humankind. It went on to suggest that a denial of access to any ubiquitous form of media can be perceived as a denial of human rights.

Far from being some advocate for censorship, the report upset some western media monopolies because of its emphasis on the free flow of information. The US Government at the time withdrew from UNESCO (as is often the case when people want to criticise a UN agency other reasons are put forward to justify the action).

This article does not help sensible debate of the role of the UN in Internet governance.

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