Internet Governance Forum in Athens Oversubscribed

Published: Wed 8 Nov 2006 10:11 AM
Internet Governance Forum in Athens Oversubscribed
While the organizers had planned for 1,200 participants, some 1,600 persons have signed up to take part in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Athens 30 Oct.-Nov. 2. They include governments, intergovern­mental organizations, NGOs and journalists.
The IGF was conceived as a follow-up compromise when the World Summits on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis last year failed to settle the dispute over whether the US government should continue its oversight of the Internet.
The Athens meeting, under UN auspices, is organized as a talking shop with no power to settle such policy matters. But it is generally agreed that the IGF will create new pressures on the United States to let go. A group of Third World countries, led by Brazil, South Africa, China, Iran and the Arab bloc has been calling for “internationalization of the Internet under the UN.
The US government has rarely if ever intervened directly in the running of the Internet. Yet, even Wash­ington’s traditional European allies in the European Union have expressed discomfort over continued US oversight of a means of communication that has become a central element of global exchanges. Apparently in response to such pressures, the US Commerce Department signed a new three-year agreement in late September with the Internet™s aῤministrator, the California-based non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), considerably loosening the reins.
The IGF is to include 34 parallel workshops organized by participating groups. A third of them focus on freedom of expression issues on the Internet.
Meanwhile, the International Telecommunication Union, the main organizer of the summits has announced ten days of follow-up meetings in Geneva May 15-25 next year on implementation of actions agreed in the final WSIS documents. There is to be a special WSIS commemoration day May 17. Aside from “security” and “information infrastructure, most themes have not been set. In mid-October, UNESCO, which is in charge of the œaction lines on œethical dimensions and œmedia, held four days of meetings on those and other themes for next year in Geneva.
WPFC is being represented in Athens by Executive Director Mark Bench and European Representative Ronald Koven. Bench and WPFC General Counsel Kevin Goldberg will also attend the ITU’s quadrennial Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, 6-24 Nov. Contentious Internet issues are expected to arise there, too.
As throughout the entire WSIS process, WPFC continues to monitor developments and work to point out and counteract proposals threatening to press freedom that inevitably arise in forums where authoritarian governments and movements have a heavy presence.
* * *
US Aid Pledge Helps Revive IPDC
The United States has signaled major participation in reviving UNESCO’s ailing International Program for the Development of Communication with a pledge in mid-September of $305,000 to help finance eight media projects in the developing world.
The IPDC budget for 2006 totals $1.8 million, compared to a low point, last year, of $850,000. It fell as low as $680,000 in 2002. The Program’s survival had been in question.
Other major contributors for 2006 are Denmark ($425,000), Norway ($425,000), Finland ($250,000), Japan ($95,000), Germany ($70,000), Russia ($50,000), Czech Republic ($45,000) and France ($45,000).
The US contribution is earmarked for projects in Angola, Botswana (for exiled journalists from neighboring Zimbabwe), Cameroon, Colombia, Congo-Brazzaville, Guatemala, Rwanda and Uganda. Half the US contributions come from a Congressional fund and half from the State Department, largely from the budget of Karen Hughes, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The United States did not contribute in 2005. It gave $60,000 in 2004. The highest previous US contribution was $196,000 in 1985, for earmarked projects in Kenya.
IPDC was founded in 1980 after a proposal by the Carter Administration’s USIA Director, John Reinhardt. The idea was that the United States and other industrialized countries would contribute major aid to develop Third World news media, if developing world governments would abandon attempts through UNESCO to restrict Western news media internationally as part of a œNew World Information and Communicῡtion Order. That demand by Third World authoritarian regimes was heavily backed by the Soviet Union as a Cold War strategy.
The IPDC was turned into a major NWICO battleground, and its politicization was a major factor in US and British decisions to quit the Organization. IPDC’s highest annual budget was just over $3 million in 1991. It has limped along with smaller and smaller budgets in recent years.
Torben Krogh, a leading Danish journalist, now the Chairman of the IPDC’s Intergovernmental Council, undertook a major streamlining of its procedures and de-politicized it, stressing aid for independent news media. In its early years, the largest share of IPDC projects were submitted by national Information Ministries.
* * *
A WPFC Open Letter Sent to President Putin
October 10, 2006
His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
Your Excellency:
We are amazed and outraged at the brazen murder in Moscow this weekend of the celebrated Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya. This killing raises dramatically the issues of the future of press freedom and of the impunity of the assassins of journalists in your country.
Given that Ms. Politkovskaya was widely celebrated as an uncompromising critic of the Russian army’s conduct of the war in Chechnya, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that the system of justice is evenhanded and that the defense of freedom of expression and of the right to criticize public policy and its execution are not empty words.
With all due respect and in the interests of justice and of the image and reputation of Russia, we call upon you to see to it that you insure that the criminal investigative authorities conduct as complete an inquiry as possible so as to bring those responsible to book, regardless of who they may be.
Russia’s reputation as a country of law where justice is both done and seen to be done hinges on the action of the state authorities in this case.
Richard N. Winfield, Chairman
E. Markham Bench, Executive Director
* * *
Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations on Russia
The global Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations adopted a resolution in Moscow calling on the Russian government to reverse its drive for state control of the media. The groups met there in con­junction with a World Association of Newspapers annual congress. The June 6 resolution said that bureau­crats appeared to be interpreting the laws so as to stamp out legitimate criticism, and it cited a dramatic increase in the last five years of criminal defamation cases against journalists. In the decade up to 2000, there were fewer than 10 such criminal cases. The number now averages 45 a year.
“In democracies, independent civil courts deal with such cases. Jail sentences and criminal prosecutions by governmental authorities are not justified,” said the resolution.
It deplored control over all national television channels by companies that are state-owned or are close to the government.
Those signing the text were WAN, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Inter American Press Association, International Broadcasting Association, International Federation of the Periodical Press, International Press Institute, and WPFC. Their resolution made the following recommendations:
Only independent civil courts should have jurisdiction in defamation cases, and officials should bring such cases only in their private capacities;
State broadcasters should be transformed into public service broadcasters, and there should be a level playing field for non-state media;
Independent, private national news broadcasters should be allowed to emerge;
Journalists should be allowed to report all sides of sensitive stories and should not be denied access to conflict zones;
For the sake of the credibility of the press as a whole, news outlets should end the unethical practice of printing hidden advertising masked as news stories.
* * *
Victory in Azerbaijan
Press freedom forces celebrated in Azerbaijan, after President Ilham Aliyev this month pardoned journalist Shakhin Aghabeyli, editor-in-chief of the Milli Yol magazine. He was serving a one-year jail sentence for alleged defamation of parliament deputy Arif Ragimzade. Milli Yol accused Ragimzade of corruption.
The pardon was issued after WPFC sent President Aliyev a letter expressing deep concern about a three-month-long judicial harassment and intimidation campaign against the Azeri news media, including Aghabeyli and his publication. The letter was published by local newspapers, and journalists in the capital of Baku said this had undoubtedly influenced the editor™s release.
* * *
Press Freedom Issues in China
The verdict for a New York Times researcher tried for fraud and, originally, for disclosing state secrets (a charge later dropped) has been postponed. Zhao Yan, 44, who worked in the Times Beijing bureau, denies the charges. Zhao spent 22 months in detention without a hearing before his trial June 16; proceedings were secret. His family and potential witnesses for him were barred from court. There has been no explanation why a verdict has been delayed. His attorney advises that detention beyond the normal deadline for a verdict is unlawful.
A proposed measure would fine domestic news media for reporting on disasters without government approval. It is contained in a bill before the Chinese parliament on how to respond to emergencies such as natural disasters, industrial accidents and health and security hazards. News media “making reports on the handling of and status of public emergencies without approval or œissuing false reports would be fined 50,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan ($6,250 and $12,500), the official Xinhua news agency reported.
New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof reported this summer that he had created a blog to test China’s controls over the Internet. Writing in Chinese, he intentionally wrote provocative material, men­tioning Falun Gong, a religious group that the Chinese government considers hostile. The word “Falun” was replaced by asterisks, but it left obvious to readers what was covered. He wrote what he considered his most inflammatory commῥnt, describing how on June 4, 1989, he™d seen the Chinese Army fire on Tiananmen Square protesters. The two characters for June 4 were replaced by asterisks, but the description of the massacreᾠremai΅ed intact.
Kristof thinks this “underscores…that China is not the police state that its leaders sometimes would like it to be; the Communist Party’s monopoly on information is crumbling, and its monopoly on power will follow. The Internet is chipping away relentlessly at the Party, for even 30,000 censors can’t keep up with the 120 million Chinese Netizens.
Writing in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Summer/Fall issue, US journalist William Thatcher Dowell says: “While many observers had expected the Internet to weaken censorship in China, the opposite appeared to be happening. Instead of opening up China to free thought, the enormous attraction of the Chinese market appeared to be corrupting Western companies and enrolling American technological prowess in efforts to further limit free s῰eech. Before long, not only Yahoo!, but Microsoft, Cisco, and Google found themselves under intense scrutiny for allegedly aiding Beijing™s efforts to track down and control dissent.
“Google has created a Chinese version of its search engine,, which readily filters out Web sites that Beijing finds politically offensive. Chinese Internet surfers looking for the words, ‘democracy,’ ‘freedom,’ or ‘human rights’ on Microsoft’s MSN network are directed to an error message that states: ‘This item contains ῦorbidden speech.™
“The growth of the Internet has been so explosive in China that Internet boosters and pro-democracy advocates regularly predict that Beijing will ultimately lose its control over the Internet. That may happen eventually, but for the moment, Chinese authorities are proving unusually sophisticated at reining in the Internet’s freewhῥeling nature¦.The Chinese government is discovering that American software designed to protect children from pornography is ideally suited to political censorship.
* * *
American Issues
Journalist and Blogger Refuses to Turn Over Video - New York Times reported that a freelance journalist and blogger in San Francisco, California was jailed after refusing to turn over video he took at a protest rally last summer and after refusing to testify before a grand jury looking into accusations that crimes were committed at the protest. Josh Wolf, 24, could be imprisoned until next summer when the grand jury term expires. He sold some of his edited coverage of the protest to local television stations, but refused to surrender the tapes, arguing that he had the right as a journalist to shield his sources. Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, was quoted in the New York Times article as having said that although the jailing of US journalists had become more common, Mr. Wolf™s case was the first she had heard of in which a blogger had been pursued and eventually jailed by federal authorities. Wolf™s website,,!
carries further information.
US Government Wins Access to Reporter Phone Records - A federal prosecutor may inspect the telephone records of two New York Times reporters in an effort to identify their confidential sources, a federal appeals court in New York ruled. The 2-to-1 decision, from a court historically sympathetic to claims that journalists should be entitled to protect their sources, reversed a lower court and dealt a further setback to news organizations, which have lately been losing press freedom cases in the federal courts.
* * *
Insult and Criminal Defamation Laws Abusive to Freedom of the Press
Stifling news through insult or criminal defamation laws is often arbitrary, improperly shields officials from scrutiny, and diminishes freedom, WPFC’s projects director, Javier Sierra told a round table discussion in Madrid in late July.
“The importance, and difficulty, of our mission to effect reforms of laws that become weapons of censorship in the hand of public and elected officials is underlined by the fact that those in charge of reforming or eliminating these weapons of censorship are the very same ones who benefit the most from their existence -- public anῤ elected officials, WPFC™s Sierra said.
Sierra gave several examples to illustrate how ridiculously arbitrary these laws are and how they act as censorship tools:
•In Honduras, until its insult law was eliminated in 2005, a defendant convicted of this alleged crime was stripped of his children’s custody.
•In Chile, until seven remaining insult laws were dropped or reformed in 2005, defendants were considered national security threats and lost most constitutional rights.
•In Costa Rica, defendants convicted of criminal defamation are listed publicly as included criminals, along with murderers, rapists and thieves.
•In Iran, insult defendants are publicly whipped and sentenced to long prison sentences and to pay devastating fines.
•In Turkey, there are 11 insult laws, one of them specifically written to protect the memory of Kemal Attaturk.
•Paraguay holds the hemispheric record for the highest criminal defamation fine, $10 million against the newspaper ABC Color.
Sierra spoke of WPFC’s work in three countries - Costa Rica, Panama and Spain - to show the obstacles facing press freedom advocates and also as examples of WPFC’s effectiveness. He cited press freedom victories in Costa Rica and Panama, and also WPFC’s success in Spain in supporting José Luis Gutiérrez and Rosa María López, who were subjected to arbῩtrary and unjust laws used in attempts to silence them. A model legal brief opposing such prosecutions is available on WPFC™s website: www.ῷ under the Resources tab.
* * *
US Shuns UN Committee on Information
The United States is apparently seeking to downgrade the importance of the UN Committee on Information, where press freedom and other issues are discussed in controversial terms. At this year’s Committee meeting, the US Delegation was conspicuously absent during this spring’s entire two-week session, reported WPFC Executive Director Mark Bench, after monitoring the proceedings.
The 108-country Committee, which meets at UN headquarters, was a cockpit for proposals to regulate news internationally in the 1980s. More recently, it has avoided thorny issues. But its standard annual resolutions retain troublesome phrases from a press freedom standpoint.
Chinese and Cuban delegates complained this year about critical NGO statements during the UN’s annual World Press Freedom Day event. Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information and runner-up in the UN Secretary-General race, replied that press freedom panelists had spoken as private persons.
* * *
Leonard H. Marks Dies
A founder of WPFC, Leonard H. Marks, died at 90 in Washington, D.C.
Former WPFC Executive Director Dana Bullen, in his book Voices of Freedom, the Story of the World Press Freedom Committee, called him “an energetic, intelligent man who quickly grasped the substance and politics of almost any situation.” Marks was Director of the US Information Agency during the Johnson Administration. He was instrumental in the US pull-out of UNESCO when that organization was oriented against press freedom. Twenty years later, he campaigned forᾠUS reentry after UNESCO changed course to champion press freedom.
An October 2006 memorial service for Marks was well-attended, including three WPFC representatives, former Executive Directors Dana Bullen and Marilyn Greene and Kevin M. Goldberg, Treasurer and General Counsel - positions that Marks held for many years.
WPFC Chairman Emeritus Harold W. Andersen said: “In half a century of involvement in press freedom matters, I never encountered a more articulate, more aggressive, more effective advocate for our cause than Leonard Marks. Freedom of expression-whether in print, broadcast or at a speaker’s rostrum-had few if any more effective advocates than Leonard Marks. We shall miss him greaῴly, but we shall also remember the joy of being so closely associated with him for so many years.
WPFC Executive Director Mark Bench said: “Leonard Marks had the gift of seeing what was needed, and getting fired up about it, long before other people. His capacity for inspiration provided some of our best ideas. He made things happen. He was a great friend of press freedom.”

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