Conference on Freedom and Privacy on the Internet Concluded

The International conference “Freedom and Privacy on the Internet”, organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation and the International Institute for Human Rights and Peace from Caen, France, concluded yesterday, May 22, 2012, with a debate on social media as a free territory.

The speakers in the debate, Haris Ališić, social media expert from Al Jazeera Balkans, Filip Stojanovski from the Metamorphosis, Sead Džigal, communicologist and expert in social media, Dona Kosturanova from the Youth Educational Forum from Skopje, pointed out the huge potentials of social media and social networks.

The speakers in the closing debate on social media
The speakers in the closing debate on social media

The debate paid great attention to the problems that social media and their use bring to the table. Filip Stojanovski raised the question of whether we may overestimate the power of the social media, while Dona Kosturanova addressed the problem that too few people really understand the social media as an instrument for strengthening of the social debate on various issues, as well as the problem of hate-speech which reappears whenever a debate on any given issue is opened.

Haris Ališić noted that the regimes in many states fear the potentials of the social networks and feel the need to put them under state control. He also referred to the ongoing debate about the privacy and security on the internet, claiming that anonymity doesn’t really exist and that there are already many information about us online, without our own contribution through the social networks, of which we are not always aware.

“If you don’t use the social media, it doesn’t mean you will remain anonymous. It just means that you allow other people to create the image of you”, Ališić said.

Sead Džigal noted that the emergence of social media changed the culture of communication, but added that social media can’t really take the place of the traditional media, which continue to dictate the public discourse and, moreover, posses the skills for structuring of information and adherence to at least some professional standards.

Responding to an intervention from the audience, Džigal questioned the thesis that social media themselves can lead to change.

„The social media are just a tool, an instrument, not a generator of change. In North Africa, there was already existent charge and will for change among the citizens, and they were practically forced to turn to social network by the circumstances in which all channels towards traditional media were closed”, Džigal said.

The three sessions yesterday were dedicated to the issue of freedom of expression on the internet and in the media.

In the first session, on Censorship of Media, Alexandre Balguy-Gallois from Reporters without Borders talked about censorship in the media in the Balkans, as well as the legal and economic aspects that influence the freedom of expression in the media, censorship and self-censorship. Balguy-Gallois mentioned the problem of economic pressures on the media and the journalists, through unregulated employment status which turns them into mercenaries that write as ordered, the bad implementation of existing legislation (otherwise seen as very good), and especially noted the problem of growing influence of organized crime on the media, primarily through share of ownership of the media.

“The criminal organisations today prefer to control the media, rather then destroy or intimidate them into silence”, Balguy-Gallois said.

Naser Selmani, President of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia talked about the pressure on the media, the unequal treatment they receive by the state – in terms of public advertising and unequal legal treatment – and the failed attempt for dialogue with the Government on the necessary reforms in the media sector.

Snežana Trpevska from the School of Journalism and Public Relations covered the issue of content regulation in the media which, in her words “doesn’t equal censorship, but is often abused for purposes of censorship”, and added that although there is an apparent need for regulation of contents on internet, the internet by nature is not suited for the regulation that is applied on traditional media.

Nikola Mladenov, founder of Fokus daily and the weekly of the same name talked about his experiences and experiences that other media in Macedonia had with censorship, and Camelia Ivanova from the Association of European Journalists of Bulgaria presented her experiences in the area and the perceptions that Bulgarian journalists themselves have of the freedom of expression in their own media and the state in general.

Our own Valentina Pellizzer with Mirjana Najčevska in the session on hate speech
Valentina Pellizzer with Mirjana Najčevska in the session on hate speech

In the second session, dedicated to the topic of “The State and the Media”, Sebastien Botreau-Bonneterre from the International Institute for Peace and Human Rights from Caen, Roberto Beličanec from the Media Development Centre, Alida Karakushi, independent publisher and blogger from Albania, and Damjan Georgievski from Free Software Macedonia.

Botreau-Bonneterre discussed the attempts by the states to conquer and control the internet, offering the example of China, which has the definition that “the internet is property of the Chinese state”, and the need to secure access to information and protection for people who transmit information.

Roberto Beličanec talked about the differences between nationalist and liberal concept on the role of the media in the context of the Balkan states, and the pressure of nationalism which transforms the journalists from democracy watch-dogs into mad dogs of propaganda, resulting in a situation in which, as he said, journalism in nationalist regimes „can only be seen as subversive”.

Alida Karakushi presented her experiences as activist and blogger, while Damjan Georgievski talked about the abuses of copyright laws to suppress the freedom of expression in the media.

In the second session, dedicated to the freedom of expression and hate-speech, OWPSEE’s own Valentina Pellizzer (the executive directress of the Foundation OneWorld Platform for SEE), presented several examples of explicit hate-speech in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She noted, using the example of the conflict between BiH association Citizens’ Action (Akcija Građana) e-novine portal, that even the people on the same side are not immune to ugliest possible hate-speech towards those who disagree with them.

Alexandre Balguy-Gallois talked about legal restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, while Mirjana Najčevska from Macedonian Helkinki Committee, and Žarko Trajanovski, human rights activists, noted examples of hate-speech in Macedonia. Trajanovski noted that in Macedonia „we have restrictions on the freedom of speech and protection for hate-speech“, while Najčevska put the emphasis on the inexistent reaction by competent institutions against those who use hate-speech, also offered her example in which she was sued by one journalists “for forcing him to hate her with her actions and statements”.

Finally, the representatives of Free Software Macedonia, which held parallel sessions and workshops offering assistance in data encryption, use of anonymous surfing software, protection of privacy of children and Facebook privacy settings for the whole duration of the conference, and also provided free wireless internet access for the participants, presented their findings on the security habits of those participants that accessed internet through their network.

The conference was officially closed by Sebastien Botreau-Bonneterre from the International Institute for Peace and Human Rights from Caen.

All presentations can be found on Slideshare.

The event was organized within the framework of the long-term project for decentralized cooperation between Macedonia and the Lower Normandy region supported by the France-Balkan Network.

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