World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

The right to be forgotten and internet governance - legitimate concerns for the news industry

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
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The right to be forgotten and internet governance - legitimate concerns for the news industry

WAN-IFRA: Companies such as Google and Yahoo! have released statements saying that they wish to achieve a “satisfactory balance between individual privacy interests and the public’s interest in free expression” - in your opinion, should private companies like Google act as the judge when it comes to these matters, because they facilitate finding this information?

Radsch: I think that one of the big problems with this ruling is that it puts the decision on what should or should not be in the public domain into the hands of a private company. It does not necessarily provide any way to adjudicate, it takes it out of due process and puts it into the hands of the company. The right to be forgotten is very vaguely worded - we might want to be more precise and call it ‘the right to be de-listed’. According to research, most Europeans never go beyond the first page of Google and I think I saw statistics that showed nearly 90% of Europeans use Google for research, which does have a tremendous impact. But, I think the problem is that when you put so much power into the hands of private companies and that there is no requirement that the information be false, there is no exception for the public interest and that’s very problematic. 

What criteria, in your opinion, should define what can be removed from search engine results? What is more important - the privacy of an individual or the public’s right to access information?

I think that the problem is that we are putting these two things in opposition to each other. We need to realize that freedom of expression and privacy are enabled by each other. Sometimes, we need to have privacy to have freedom of expression but similarly we can’t have an imbalance between these rights, where one is outweighing the other. Freedom of expression is a right that enables the enjoyment of so many other rights, and I don’t think it’s up to one person to decide where that balance lies. But, it really should be balancing the public interest and the right to know and the right to access information regardless of borders. I think that for example, there are legitimate concerns about youth who post to social media and later want to have some control over that, or concerns about sexual harassment online and how to deal with that. But, when we are thinking about journalism, we have to take into account the journalistic integrity of the process and not getting into post-publication censorship and taking things out of the public eye. 

One thing is, you don’t know when someone is going to become a public figure so we don’t necessarily know what is relevant. Certainly factual information shouldn’t be subject to this right to be de-listed, but I think we also need to put this into perspective. These are de-listing requirements, not requirements affecting the publication, which is also something to think about. Should it be the responsibility of the publication? Traditionally, someone has had to go to the New York Times or the Guardian to request that they remove something or make a correction, and this is now turning that on its head, and that’s something that needs to be grappled with. 

The First Amendment of the US constitution which outlines the freedom of speech dates back to the 18th century. Would you say that maybe in some ways, the United States should embrace a view on the right to be forgotten similar to that of the EU because ‘times have changed’?

I think that the First Amendment of the US constitution is actually one of the most adaptable documents in terms of guaranteeing rights and being able to be adapted to history, developments and technology. There are definitely issues that technology brings in new dimensions and that are on a different scale than were envisioned by some of these rights. 

I think what’s more important is that in the ICCPR in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is a clearly defined right to receive and impart information across frontiers, regardless of borders and regardless of platforms, so when this so-called right to be forgotten interferers with that, that’s a problem because that is an internationally recognized right. I think that again, there is a legitimate concern but the way that they went about trying to address it with this ruling is far too vague, far too vast, and does not have restrictions on factual information or on the public interest.

So you think that it should be extended to the U.S.? If you are in France for example, you can still search from Google’s other domains and thereby surpass the barrier.

That’s good, but here’s the problem: one of the huge challenges of internet governance is that states still want to have their sovereignty online, but the fact is that the internet is different from these national sovereign borders, and so what we see is the attempt in some cases to create national internets like in China and Iran. This similar attempt to have the French version or the Spanish version or the UK version of Google is okay, but to say that that should apply around the world to people who are not subject to EU law, or EU citizens who want to choose not to use that particular search engine is problematic because that will infringe on people’s rights around the world who are not subject to EU law. 

Why should newspapers be concerned with net neutrality? How does it directly affect journalists?

I think that net neutrality is an issue that needs to really be grappled with and we should think about the press freedom dimensions of it. I think that a free and open internet is a value that press freedom organizations around the world adhere to, and you have to think about what the implications are there. We don’t have an institutional position on this, but the questions that are raised are: what happens if a telecom provider who is also owned by a parent company with a news organization gives a video or news preferential treatment by loading it faster? are they going to potentially slow down content from news sites or candidates that they don’t agree with or that are their competitors? I think that is where the risk lies. In terms of alternative news sites that are smaller and couldn't pay for preference, there are big news companies that could potentially pay for preferential treatment and that could make smaller news companies suffer. I think you could also look at the financial implications for having to pay for preferential access, but I think that one of the keys things is the news industry has to think about this issue and how it affects them. We don’t have an institutional position on this, we just want to raise these as issues that the news industry should be thinking about. 

ICANN, who will be represented at our World News Media Congress, is set to become an international organization. What will this change mean for newspapers?

The internationalization of ICANN is in response to a recognition that the internet and the governance of the internet needs to be international and cannot be based in one country. It was also propelled by the revelations of mass surveillance and the undermining of trust that the revelations about NSA spying had. In terms of the impact that that is going to have, I don’t know, but I think that it’s very important that censorship be prevented and freedom of expression be protected.

Our World Media Policy Forum will assemble publishers, editors, policy makers, press freedom organizations and interested members of the civil society. Where do you think this debate can take us?

I think it is important for the news industry to think about the particular impact that these broad internet governance and internet policy issues have for journalism and for the news industry. Maybe unlike some other industries, the news industry serves a public interest and they are in many ways the eyes and ears of the public on those in power. Most of what we know comes through the news. So, I think it’s really important than the news industry grapples with what these issues mean for them and for journalism and for the practice of journalism and also, for the safety of journalism. We didn’t talk about surveillance for example but mass surveillance has an impact on the news industry as well in terms of the ability to offer source protection and have that as a value in journalism. I think all of these macro-issues around internet governance and internet policy have particular dynamics that are relevant to the news industry that journalism and media organizations should really be thinking about and covering as well. 

Participation in the World Media Policy Forum is free of charge, but we kindly ask you to register in advance as places are limited. Join the Twitter conversation using #WMPF15 or direct your questions to moderator @courtneyr or WAN-IFRA Public Affairs Officer @E_Perotti !


Teresa Berezowski


2015-05-27 13:29

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