June 19, 2003

Right to reply

Declan McCullagh reports that the Council of Europe is considering a proposal requiring anyone publishing ‘online media’ to provide an online right to reply.

Blogs would be included, along with online newspapers and other media. The idea would be that people mentioned in an online publication should be able to reply to comments about them, either directly or by having their response linked to. Which isn’t really a big deal for most bloggers, I think. After all, the medium is based on an almost infinite set of cascading responses. I imagine it could be pretty tricky for more comprehensive publications like newspapers and journals if this draft proposal were ever to be implemented.

McCullagh is much better informed about the structure, limits and broad membership of the Council of Europe than most commentators, but his article still runs along the familiar groove of ‘US libertarianism good, European meddling bad’, concluding: “Europe lacks a First Amendment and the respect for limited government, private property and free enterprise that America still enjoys.” And he’s not much helped by the eager sub-editor who entitled the whole thing ‘Why Europe still doesn’t get the internet’….

Two things to note. First, the proposal is made as a recommendation only and is unlikely to get far. It is the child of a rather obscure committee, the group of specialists on online services and democracy which lives on the human rights side of the CoE house. To put it mildly, these people’s star is not in the ascendant right now, what with the war on terror and all that.

Secondly, while McCullagh rightly notes that the US is a non-voting member of the CoE, he doesn’t say anything about the enormous influence the US wields in this forum. For example, the US DoJ was the greatest proponent of the most controversial and big-brother-like parts of the the CoE Convention of Cybercrime, a convention McCullagh rightly calls creepy. A pre-cursor to the current debate on traffic data retention, the CoE cybercrime convention signalled the willingness of the US to push policies abroad which it might have a hard time selling at home. For political reasons, then, the CoE isn’t a particularly good exemplar of the gung ho European approach to regulation.

So, it’s not all that accurate to inflate an oddball little proposal from a low profile advisory committee into a signifier of philosophical differences. Which isn’t to say that McCullagh’s not on to something here. Just that the dynamics involved paint a more complicated picture than he allows.

P.S. Just for the record, I think the proposal sucks too. The magic of blogging is not the right to reply, but the will to.

Posted by Maria at June 19, 2003 05:07 AM | TrackBack
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