EU Plan to Regulate Web Stirs Criticism; Companies, Bloggers Cite Free-Speech Concerns
Byline: Kara Rowland, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A European plan to apply traditional broadcast-television regulations to so-called "new media" services has some American Internet companies and free-speech advocates worried it could stifle free expression on both sides of the Atlantic.
The proposal, an update to the European Union's 1989 "Television Without Frontiers" directive, would regulate on-demand audiovisual content - such as streaming online video, podcasts or mobile-phone clips - "to protect minors and prevent incitement to racial hatred," according to a statement signed by Viviane Reding, European commissioner for information society and media, and linked on her Web site.
Patrick Ross, a senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington free-market think tank, said the regulation, though well-intended, would have unwanted consequences.
"One of the great difficulties of the Internet to a large extent is the Internet does not obey borders. When a company is operating across borders and they're facing disparate regulations, they face a choice of essentially operating two different companies or just operating at the highest level of regulation," Mr. Ross said. "And that could mean the EU's rules could essentially become the global rules."
The rule has drawn criticism from bloggers, many of whom equate it with an attack on free speech.
"One of the greatest freedoms we have is the freedom of speech. We can say whatever, whenever. Well, except if it's Internet video. Or if it's hate speech. And if It's Internet video hate speech, double whammy on that," Michael Ruane, better known as "Doc," wrote last week in a posting on his blog, "the Autopsy."
On her blog, "With Issue," "Janjan" said of the proposal: "Sounds good on the surface, [but] you know what's coming."
Bloggers aren't the only ones worried by the prospect of EU regulation. U.S. Internet giants Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. have criticized the idea.
"One of the reasons that the Internet has been so phenomenally successful is because it has been lightly regulated," a Google spokesman said in an e-mail. "We believe that extending the scope of broadcasting regulation to new media like the Internet would be a mistake and risks undermining the creativity and innovation we have seen to date. …