FREEDOM ONLINE: INTERNATIONAL CONFRENCE ON INTERNET SELF-REGULATION IN BAKU

December 14th, 2011
Today, the Institute for Reporters` Freedom and Safety, with financial support from the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, held an international conference titled Freedom Online:  Internet self-regulation.

The main subject was how to regulate the internet—whether through self-regulation or if government should also play a role or take the lead in internet regulation.

Representatives of civil society, government officials, bloggers, journalists, and international and local experts attended the conference.  Based on the opinions expressed during the event, recommendations will be prepared to hold an International Internet Forum in October of next year in Azerbaijan.   

“There are two types of information space in Azerbaijan. There are people who criticize the Azerbaijani government, and people who praise the Azerbaijani government. Issues which are not covered in the traditional media are covered on the internet and this is favorable to the public interest of the country” said Melissa Stone, Deputy Head of the OSCE Office in Baku.

IREX Media Law Expert Alesger Memmedli said that the government can have a role to play in internet regulation, but that a system of licensing for internet TV or radio is inadmissible. Internet should be free he said, but internet users should also understand their responsibilities.

Participants reacted strongly against statements released by government officials on internet regulation and licensing.

“People suffer from the sector which is regulated by government. When economy is regulated, monopoly is increasing; when education is regulated, illiteracy is increasing; when television is regulated, there is no audience, said REAL Movement Co-founder Ilgar Mammadov. He continued that the government cannot regulate the internet in Azerbaijan, because as an authoritarian state, it, itself, is not regulated by the people:

“The head of Public-Political Department of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, Ali Hasanov, and National Television and Radio Council Chairman Nushiravan  Maharramli have brought up regulation issues. There is need for regulation of these persons by the internet community. The public regulates state policy in democratic countries.”

Experts said that internet self-regulation exists.

Concerns about state regulation were espoused by many, but most participants said that it would be impossible to take control of the internet. “There is interactivity in the internet and every community regulates itself via its own network. Internet regulation is impossible. Because broadcaster can place in one country, user can place in another country, and domain can place in another country. For this reason, internet can not be regulated in accordance with any law,” said Ilgar Mirza Social Media Expert.

Head of Department for International Relations and Cooperation with NGOs of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technologies, Ayaz Bayramov, said that   there is no self-regulation on the internet, rather there is global governance in internet.

According to Bayramov, Global Forum on internet governance was founded within the framework of the UN in 2006.  Five forums have already held. The sixth forum will be held in Azerbaijan and global governance of the internet will be discussed.

 “Discussion of issue on licensing internet television reveals that people are forced to watch government television,” said chairman of the East –West Research Center Arastun Orujlu.

Christian Moeller Advisor to the OSCE Representatives on Freedom of the Media said that “No government has opportunity to regulate internet separately. No government has responsibility for the content of information disseminated on the internet. There is self-regulation on the internet and this is freedom of internet. After dissemination of information, everybody is able to express his or her opinion improving development of the society” said Christian Moeller Advisor to the OSCE Representatives on Freedom of the Media.

Expert also spoke about the government’s responsibility to eliminate differences in internet provision between the regions and Baku..

Turan News Agency Director Mehman Aliyev said that, “if there is internet self-regulation in Azerbaijan, free speech and the internet will be strangled. There is no difference between media regulation, regulation of religion, television regulation, or internet regulation.” He also disagreed with Mr. Moeller that the internet can be regulated along European models because of the unique political situation in Azerbaijan.

 Media Rights Institute head Rashid Hajili said in his speech that “internet self-regulation is one of main problems. I believe that it is important to commit rules to writing in order to protect moral rules.” He also mentioned that, “the most serious problem regarding the internet is access to internet. There are serious shortcomings in access to the internet in Azerbaijan. One of these problems is the monopoly on internet services”.

Bloggers including Parviz Azimov strictly criticized any form of internet-regulation. “Government should regulate Lider TV, because this channel insults people.” He added that “my blog is my virtual house, and should be considered my property.”

IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov expressed his gratitude to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunya Miyatovich, for the organization’s financial  support of the conference. He described 2012 as an important year for internet freedom in Azerbaijan.

 “Government intends to take control of internet in Azerbaijan, but civil society thinks the opposite.  For this reason, we will continue our discussions on internet freedom. We will hold a parallel forum during Forum on Internet Governance to be held in Azerbaijan in October of 2012,” said Huseynov.

E.Huseynov said that they will hold a press conference at IRFS on December 19th, regarding the final version of proposals and recommendations expressed in today’s conference.