Why Europe doesn't get the web
June 16, 2003 5:30 PM   Subscribe

European right of reply. The Council of Europe is drafting a proposal, "... that Internet news organizations, individual Web sites, moderated mailing lists and even Web logs (or 'blogs'), must offer a 'right of reply' to those who have been criticized by a person or organization." Considering that someone will have to pay for the storage and bandwidth required to host rebuttals, this seem the very antithesis of "free" speech and could get quite expensive.
posted by cedar (39 comments total)

 
It seems like more free speech to me. I mean, the law doesn't stop anyone from saying anything, it isn't limiting anything. In fact, it allows certain people to speak with certain audiences they might not other wise have been able to.

I believe in the print-version of this law (yes, there is one) the speaker only needs to provide as much space as the original attack.

Honestly I think you're the one who 'doesn't get' the web. Storage space is practically free, and a site could use an IFrame to host the content if the bandwidth were too high.

Also, some sites have a lot more traffic then other sites. If Matt Drudge denigrates me for some reason, the vast majority of people who read the attack on his website are not going to find mine.

Freedom of speech doesn't mean you don't have to bare any responsibility for your words.
posted by delmoi at 6:16 PM on June 16, 2003


Freedom of speech doesn't mean you don't have to bare any responsibility for your words.

But does it mean you should HAVE to provide a means of rebuttal? I dunno... doesn't seem right to me.
posted by Witty at 6:35 PM on June 16, 2003


Editorial decisions, ie. the right NOT to print someone else's rebuttal, is actually a very important part of free speech.

Freedom of speech guarantees that everybody has the right to own a printing press... But what he prints with his own printing press is his decision alone.
posted by VeGiTo at 6:41 PM on June 16, 2003


Wow, Europe must be pissed off that it can't leave a comment on my blog. Damn those javascript errors!
posted by Poagao at 6:42 PM on June 16, 2003


This doesn't seem as upsetting as it does irrelevant. I understand that speech and libel laws are different in Europe, but there's a relatively similar standard, isn't there?

In the U.S., someone makes an allegation against a company or person, and that person does one of three things: offers a rebuttal using whatever means are at their disposal like a press release or statement on their web site, persues litigation to state legally that the accusation is false, or ignores it completely. Is there something in Europe right now that is preventing these three options from existing?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:46 PM on June 16, 2003


It seems to me that the internet is very different to the press or tv/radio, where I can see a use for such a rebuttal law: because of the imbalance of power/access to readers, that Joe Average would have compared to some rabid newspaper proprietor (or Joe Dipshit compared to some responsible newspaper editor.)

The internet lets anyone publish stuff. They have the arena to put stuff out there to respond to criticism. The playing field is levelled.

Al that's required by someone who's curious to see if there's another side to the story is to enter "Joe Average" and a couple of other bits into Google, and.... there's the response.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:46 PM on June 16, 2003


Also being discussed at Blogroots
posted by dg at 7:03 PM on June 16, 2003


This is the very antithesis of free speech. The gov't or an agency thereof would be telling private citizens and private companies what content they must carry in privately paid for publications.

This would never pass muster in the US. The closest thing we have is the "Fairness Doctrine" which is half-heartedly brought up in discussions of television and radio coverage of news and politics. (The reason it is applied only to those media is the inherent limit of discrete channels.) I don't believe that this is actually a law or regulation, and even if it is, it is not enforced in any meaningful way.
posted by deadcowdan at 7:13 PM on June 16, 2003


The first amendment allows me to say to people demanding equal time -- "start your own damned Web site." And that's just the way I like it.
posted by jscalzi at 7:23 PM on June 16, 2003


The Fairness Doctrine was eviscerated by the FCC a decade ago. Fox News, to name just one outfit, would be unable to exist in its current form if such a policy existed and was enforced.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:03 PM on June 16, 2003


This is another example of out-of-touch European Union bureaucrats screwing up something they don't understand.
posted by Spacelegoman at 8:05 PM on June 16, 2003


That's old Europe.
posted by 111 at 8:12 PM on June 16, 2003


Everyone already has the right to reply: they can start their own blog and link to the 'offending' original text. Case closed. ;-P
posted by mischief at 8:54 PM on June 16, 2003


I can write whatever I want on my web site. Everyone else has a right to write about what I write. Nobody has a write to have themself published on my web site. Period. If I am sladerous or libelous, sue me. Same goes for corporations and organizations.
posted by tomorama at 9:50 PM on June 16, 2003


I agree with those who are saying start your own web site and "reply" all you want to. I suppose in some ways the comment section of my web site could be construed as an arena for the "right to reply", but then if you are an obnoxious pig in my comments section, rest assured it'll be down in a matter of minutes. I pay for my domain name, and for the space it requires on a server. If someone has that big of a problem with something I have said, let them pay for and build their own.

Storage space is practically free, and a site could use an IFrame to host the content if the bandwidth were too high.

Sorry, but my storage space isn't practically free, nor is my bandwidth usage. I have to pay for it, and I barely have enough space/bandwidth for my own ranting, let alone the rantings of someone upset by something I have said. I own my domain name, pay for my server space and therefore have complete editorial control over what appears on my web site and what doesn't. The day that changes, I will stop having a web site. Unless the offended parties care to pay their share of the costs to host their rants as well as my own.

And an iframe? Eeeew.
posted by Orb at 10:14 PM on June 16, 2003


Read the actual draft proposal here before getting so hot. Found via Slashdot, where it was pointed out that the draft explicitly says that this would only concern a right of reply to factual errors, not "opinions and ideas". Furthermore, a link is fine; it would not force you to take on terabytes of rebuttal. It's just an extension of the existing European laws, which delmoi mentioned, on right of reply in print media.
posted by raygirvan at 11:16 PM on June 16, 2003


I don't really understand what the problem you people have with this is. I have the freedom to own property, but that doesn't mean I have the freedom not to own (for example) car insurance.


This talk about printing presses really misses the point, we are not talking about printing presses, we are talking about the web. Yes, I can put up my own page, but who's going to see it if the offending party doesn't link to it?
posted by delmoi at 12:22 AM on June 17, 2003


Yet another interesting example of how Europe and America are seemingly diverging in their opinions. As a gross generalisation, the American view is that this is an attack on freedom of speech and editorial control. A European view is that this is an entirely reasonable way of resolving disputes.
posted by salmacis at 1:29 AM on June 17, 2003


Salmacis: Please don't generalise a few loons to all of us, I doubt a significant percentage of internet-savvy europeans think this is a good idea.
posted by fvw at 4:28 AM on June 17, 2003


AdamGreenfield - Fox News is a cable organization, and thus held to a totally different level of scrutiny and accountability than Fox broadcast stations.

Tomorama - not true anymore. If the Europeans have their way. Now, if the Europeans have their way, you're required to give them _on your site_ the right of reply. This is in their bill of rights.

Ok Raygirvan, I'm reading the proposal:

In order to guarantee an effective right of reply, member States should consider introducing an obligation for on-line media to conserve a copy of their information made publicly available, at least while a request for inserting a reply can be legally made.

In other words - states should consider forced archiving.

And the wording is basically a series of coersions to force people to allow the right of reply in the same forum that they originally posted in.

This isn't very forward thinking of them. After all, on-line media doesn't cover SMS.

Can you imagine if the framers of the US constitution had done that?

AMENDMENT ONE: Congress shall make no law repecting the freedom of religion of protestants, catholics, presbyterians, lutherans, or jews, or prohibiting the exercise thereof in church, or in the home, or abridging the freedom to speak in meetings, in public or in the home, or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble in their homes, in parks, meeting halls, convention centers or townes, and to petition the executive or legislature or judiciary for redress of their grievances.

There's a reason that the US Constitution is drafted in extremely broad terms. The "sophisticated class" of European beauroistocrats (of which, unfortunately, many good Europeans are not members) either don't understand or don't care.

Maybe this is some of that "sophistication" that we in America keep hearing we don't have.
posted by swerdloff at 7:47 AM on June 17, 2003


Well, this is a proposed extension to current regulations (which, by the way, are not actually enforced. The Council of Europe is pretty much the same as a think tank, even if it has had some powerful results in the past).

As delmoi points out, it serves to actually read the proposal before going postal over it. If you did, you'd realise there is no plan to 'control your content', merely to recognise factual errors, which could be done in something as non-offensive as a link.

The problem, I think, is not between Europe and the US and the idea of 'getting the web', but between methods of regulation overall and the way of approaching the internet in terms of existing systems of thought. Is it broadcast media, or is it a publication? In Europe, print publications are often bound to point out their own mistakes, to allow readers to have a voice. In the US, regulation is more lax. Neither system is perfect, but each has its benefits.

While I don't necessarily agree with the proposal, and I certainly don't think it would ever be enforced, I also don't think that's it's a case of 'not getting' the internet.
posted by blastboy at 7:52 AM on June 17, 2003


Here we go again.

I don't really understand what the problem you people have with this is.

I feel like I'm dealing with aliens here. You don't understand what the problem is with being told what to publish on your own website? You people who don't understand or value freedom of speech, or think it's something that can safely be chipped away at in the name of ever-shifting notions of political correctness, deserve to have it taken away from you bit by bit—which is what it looks like is going to happen over there. Yes, you'll be able to say whatever you like, as long as you don't offend anybody. Enjoy your brave new world!
posted by languagehat at 7:59 AM on June 17, 2003


it's Not About Freedom Of Speech. It's about accountability.

the point is that you can publish whatever you want, as long as you're responsible for the words you write, and have to accept when you're wrong: just like any publication worth its salt would.

The more I think about it, the more this is about really accepting the web as a powerful publishing arena. So perhaps Europe 'gets' the web more; it just wants it to be fully accountable.
posted by blastboy at 8:17 AM on June 17, 2003


Can you imagine if the framers of the US constitution had done that?

Can you get out of your blinkered and indoctrinated obsession with your own constitution and imagine that there are other workable systems of government - such as press regulation - that people like?
posted by raygirvan at 8:20 AM on June 17, 2003


Well, ok, just to stir the pot a bit.

Once upon a time in the late 80s I thought it would be cool to be a science reporter, right out of high school I jumped into the School of Journalism at Indiana University. Why I got out of it is a completely different matter, but one of the earliest classes was on law and ethics. At least within that school of professional journalism organizations were considered to have ethical obligations above and beyond the legal ones to give both sides print space or air time, and publish timely factual corrections.

But I'm wondering, did anyone actually look at the proposed policy? From the definitions section:
a. the term "on-line media" means any natural or legal person or other entity whose main activity is to engage in the collection, dissemination, editing and/or dissemination of information to the public via the Internet, such as on-line news portals or bulletins;
So basically this is not about forcing a right to reply on personal weblogs, but just on professional news sites that should be covering both sides of the issue to begin with.

And also:
Reaffirming that the minimum rules in the appendix to Resolution (74) 26 do not go beyond granting a right of reply with respect of factual statements claimed to be inaccurate and that, as a consequence, the on-line dissemination of opinions and ideas falls outside the scope of this Recommendation;
So web pundits can say all they like that such and such a public figure is incompetent, dangerous, overrated, or just plain out to lunch. What they can't do is repeat the Drudge vs. Blumentrit case. (Although if even a hack like Drudge was willing to retract a bad claim on the basis that he can't verify the facts, how bad can this be?)

Speaking of the chicken-littles:

I feel like I'm dealing with aliens here. You don't understand what the problem is with being told what to publish on your own website? You people who don't understand or value freedom of speech, or think it's something that can safely be chipped away at in the name of ever-shifting notions of political correctness, deserve to have it taken away from you bit by bit—which is what it looks like is going to happen over there. Yes, you'll be able to say whatever you like, as long as you don't offend anybody. Enjoy your brave new world!

Well, to start with, I don't see how my website would be covered by this proposal. My main activity is not collecting and disseminating information on the internet. (If I did have pretentions that my home page was, in fact, publishing, I would support a right to reply as a matter of basic professional ethics.)

Secondly, this does not appear to be about political correctness. In fact, I would argue that because this is limited to prividing a response to factual errors that a right to reply is much less problematic for freedom of speech than current libel laws (and in fact, mirrors one of the primary recommended self-help remedies for an organization facing a libel suit). Libel has never been protected under freedom of speech.

Third, this proposal does not protect one from being offended. For example, I can say "In my opinion, all polka-dotted people are evil and should be shot" without needing to provide a a right to reply. However, if I were to say, "It is a scientific fact that all polka-dotted people are born with tails that are removed at birth due to a politically correct conspiracy of doctors," well, then I might have to provide a right to reply.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:30 AM on June 17, 2003


Can you get out of your blinkered and indoctrinated obsession with your own constitution and imagine that there are other workable systems of government - such as press regulation - that people like?

Raygirvan - yes, I can. But the problem that I see in those systems is that a third of the people like them and two thirds don't due to the regulations, the two thirds are S.O.L. And in the instance of press regulation, how are they to know any different? After all, the press is regulated - who is going to tell them that their rights are being abridged since the press can't?

I must not be sophisticated enough to understand why muzzling people is good for personal freedom, and forcing them to say other things is also. How a right of reply on a website, forcing me to put something up I don't want to put up, furthers human rights (well, maybe _your_ human rights, but not mine, which is inherently unbalanced).

KirkJobSluder: Well, to start with, I don't see how my website would be covered by this proposal.
You publish a website? It's on-line media. They specifically took out the "Professional" bit to cover you. And if it doesn't cover you, you don't care? You don't contemplate ever having one? Or anyone you know having one?

mirrors one of the primary recommended self-help remedies for an organization facing a libel suit

Actually self-help posits finding a parallel place to post a response. If Atrios slanders me, but Instapundit is willing to host my rebuttal, that's ideal and a done deal. In this instance, if Atrios slanders me, Atrios is REQUIRED to link to my rebuttal. See the distinction?

And to all of you - my concern is that this law, like the Belgian "War Crimes" law, and the French anti-hate speech law, will be, due to the nature of the medium, applied across international lines. That a Eurocrat can tell me, as an American, what I have to say is... less than ideal.
posted by swerdloff at 8:46 AM on June 17, 2003


As with most of the eurocrat ideas on the Net, this is more useless than dangerous. How do you enforce that? We can discuss the morality of it, but it will never work without other measures, like compulsory website registration. I sure will oppose that. Besides, current law is based on a fundamental asymmetry; it is supposed that the media have a much bigger reach than any person. Maybe we must reconsider this assumption...
And yes; I am european. Even proEU.
posted by AlgernonBis at 9:39 AM on June 17, 2003


swerdloff: No worries, mate. As soon as a Eurocrat tells you what to do, the US Administration will undoubtedly declare the EU a rogue nation (translation: not bending over backwards to do America's will) and bomb Brussels. That's if they haven't already 'cos somebody tried to arrest a GI and accuse them of a warcrime :)

(Yes, I know the EU isn't a nation, but since when has a little thing like facts bothered the Bush Administration (or Blair's for that matter)? )

And yes, I'm kidding. I doubt even George Bush would bomb the EU for telling you what to put on your website. Not yet, anyway :)
posted by kaemaril at 9:52 AM on June 17, 2003


After all, the press is regulated - who is going to tell them that their rights are being abridged since the press can't?

In the context, we were talking only about a particular regulation that enforces a right to reply over issues of factual inaccuracy. The primary point, at least in the UK, is that such rules provide a defence for individuals who have been misreported by unethical corporate publications.

As others have said, this isn't a big deal for media (of whatever form) where the writers have journalistic ethics to start with. It's polite and ethical to correct mistakes (and to put in some effort not to make them in the first place). If you're arguing for the right to knowingly publish lies or say "sod you" to anyone who points out a mistake, it's not a right I think deserves much defence. We've been down that road with UK tabloid newspapers.
posted by raygirvan at 10:04 AM on June 17, 2003


swerdloff:
I must not be sophisticated enough to understand why muzzling people is good for personal freedom, and forcing them to say other things is also. How a right of reply on a website, forcing me to put something up I don't want to put up, furthers human rights (well, maybe _your_ human rights, but not mine, which is inherently unbalanced).

I guess I see it differently. If you choose to make it your vocation to make digital publishing your main activity, is it not in your best interest to develop a reputation for providing good information rather than bad information?

You publish a website? It's on-line media. They specifically took out the "Professional" bit to cover you. And if it doesn't cover you, you don't care? You don't contemplate ever having one? Or anyone you know having one?

Actually, the revision does not cover my web site. What is covered is "natural or legal person or other entity whose main activity is to ...". I suspect that the term "professional" was not removed to cover personal web sites, but to get around a loophole that has been exploited in the past by Drudge for example of claiming to be a professional journalist when convenient and disclaiming professional journalism when inconvenient. "Professional" is also ambiguous in this context. The language should perhaps be changed to clarify this, as this is a draft, I'm not that worried.

However, even as someone who contemplates possibly, at some point in the future, editing a publication, I see a right of response to factual errors to be central to publication integrity. (And in academic environments academic integrity.) As such, I'm baffled by why there is such resistance to something that web-based journalism should be doing anyway.

Actually self-help posits finding a parallel place to post a response. If Atrios slanders me, but Instapundit is willing to host my rebuttal, that's ideal and a done deal. In this instance, if Atrios slanders me, Atrios is REQUIRED to link to my rebuttal. See the distinction?

However, in most libel cases Atrios would be required to publish a retraction or response anyway if he was in the wrong. Basically, I think that if you have pretentions about being the kind of news website or portal covered by this reccomendation that you need to wake up and smell the coffee in regards to both good practice and legal obligations. It is much cheaper for Atrios to preemptively publish a retraction than to go to court over a libel suit.

AlgernonBis:
As with most of the eurocrat ideas on the Net, this is more useless than dangerous. How do you enforce that? We can discuss the morality of it, but it will never work without other measures, like compulsory website registration. I sure will oppose that. Besides, current law is based on a fundamental asymmetry; it is supposed that the media have a much bigger reach than any person. Maybe we must reconsider this assumption...
And yes; I am european. Even proEU.


I guess to me, having had a bit of media law pounded into my head, I don't see this as being anything other that a very weak libel law applied to internet news portals, and something that simply mandates what good news publishers have been doing for decades. Interestingly, it is something that news sites have increasingly built into their systems through the form of message boards. I don't see preemptive enforcement as necessary.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:14 AM on June 17, 2003


Quite right, kaemaril! Remember folks, it's naughty American Imperialism to not want a bunch of "sophisticated" European administrators telling us non-Europeans what to do. After all, they are better then we are.
posted by Snyder at 10:23 AM on June 17, 2003


Snyder: No, they're better than George Bush and John Ashcroft. They're worse than everybody else. It's a fine distinction, but I find it a valuable one.

Before anybody gets their Calvin Kleins all bent out of shape about Europeans trying to impose the will of the European legal system on good ol' yanks (allegedly), let's not forget that America likes to do exactly the same thing to Europe (and, for that matter, everybody else), 'kay? Which side did it first is one of those chicken/egg things.
posted by kaemaril at 11:35 AM on June 17, 2003


I think this is the beginning of a very slippery slope (as is the French hate speech law). The point of freedom of speech is that the government is never supposed to be able to dictate what can and can't be said/printed/broadcast etc. Who is to determine, if this passes, what is "true" and what is facutally in error? If I run a website that posts foreign trade statistics that contradict those coming out of Brussels, should I be compelled to put the "official" information on my web site? Why should the government ever force me to publish anything? I find this deeply deeply disturbing, more so because so many people here are walking into this with such apathy.

I worry for Europe. I think the EU is an illiberal institution. It is non-democratic and will stifle whatever vibrancy is left in Europe through excessive regulation.
posted by pjgulliver at 11:54 AM on June 17, 2003


If I run a website that posts foreign trade statistics that contradict those coming out of Brussels, should I be compelled to put the "official" information on my web site?

If you want credibility as a publication, you ought to anyway (if only by providing a link to the EU figures) in order to show the context and explain why your figures are different. Again, no issue.
posted by raygirvan at 12:16 PM on June 17, 2003


Of course I "ought to" if I want academic credibility. And if I refuse to put up an explanation, readers should feel free to disregard what I write. But no government should ever be able to force me to put that information up. Americans are risk takers. We want freedom of speech to be a broad an inalienable right. We understand that sometimes this means things we detest will be printed. Sometimes outright falsehoods will be printed. But that's ok because it's better than the alternative, which is coersive government control.

Europeans (broad generalization) seem to have had the risk bred out of them...or perhaps the risk taking breeding stock emigrated to America. Europe would rather have an unelected few tell it what to do than risk the unpleasentness and self-responsibility that comes from having broad rights.

Look at public support for the war in Iraq. Americans were willing to take a risk. A majority of the country thought that action in Iraq could make that nation, the region, and the world a better safer place. Europeans, especially the French, couldn't be bothered. The risk that something (the Arab street exploding, WMD being used, a surge in terrorism) might go wrong dominated political discourse in Europe.

America is a country of optimists who want the ability to make their own mistakes. Europe prefers central planning and burdensome safety nets.

(ok, lots of broad generalizations)
posted by pjgulliver at 12:31 PM on June 17, 2003


kaemaril: fair enough. It seems I mistook your post for a general endorsement of this law and it's applicability to Americans (and other non-Euros.) In any event, I'm not wearing any underwear anyway.
posted by Snyder at 2:55 PM on June 17, 2003


Snyder: That's ... way too much information :)
posted by kaemaril at 6:01 PM on June 17, 2003


I'm getting increasingly interested here in the assumptions of what this is all about.

I disagree that this erodes the right to free speech, the publication in question is *still free*, but has to be accountable for the publication of incorrect material. And not even by publishing their own content. In my opinion, that's not invading the right to free speech in the case (they've still said what they want), it's protecting the right of the subject to be slandered by wanton publication of false information.

As for the *proposed* (anyone realise how many 'proposals' bite the dust before ever getting near the legislature), I'm not convinced it would have any bearing on weblogs, it's seemingly intended for professional media.

And as for pjgulliver's comments, I don't think this is about 'risk' - I think it's about the rights of all concerned. After all, my interpretation of American 'risk' is that the little guy takes a risk every time he wants to prove that the big guy was wrong.

The US has a media that's being slowly folded into itself and dominated by an elite few; where the word of the majority shareholder rules (whatever that word might be). Sections of the media, it seems, are increasingly intent on backing up particular political interests - and as media gets closer and closer to government, maybe we *should* be worrying about how and why media might present information incorrectly.

When you let money rule the roost, you're throwing away a lot more than freedom of speech.
posted by blastboy at 2:43 AM on June 18, 2003


We want freedom of speech to be a broad an inalienable right

I notice you still have libel, slander and copyright laws, so it's broad and inalienable only within limits. In practice, there are plenty of restrictions on freedom of speech that stand in the way of saying or writing exactly what you want. We're not talking about prior restraint but an after-the-fact right to correction, similar to the legal requirement that a publisher may be forced to print a retraction to a libellous statement.
posted by raygirvan at 4:41 AM on June 18, 2003


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