OSCE meets in Paris to tackle online racism

15th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

VIENNA, June 15 (AFP) - European and US officials and industry professionals will meet from Wednesday to discuss ways of tackling the proliferation of racist, xenophobic and anti-semitic materials via the Internet, blamed for a rising tide of hate-crimes both sides of the Atlantic.

VIENNA, June 15 (AFP) - European and US officials and industry professionals will meet from Wednesday to discuss ways of tackling the proliferation of racist, xenophobic and anti-semitic materials via the Internet, blamed for a rising tide of hate-crimes both sides of the Atlantic.

Delegates at the two-day meeting in Paris, held at the initiative of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the French government, hope to find ways to trace the authors of racist propaganda, without reining in online freedoms.

Views on how best to respond differ sharply - with some Europeans, notably France, in favour of a crackdown on incitement to racial hatred, while the United States remains deeply attached to the principle of freedom of expression, enshrined in the US constitution.

"The problem is clearly there and it faces the whole world," said the US ambassador to the 55-member OSCE, Stephan M. Minikes, who agreed that there was a lack of consensus on the issue.

"Very broadly, the European Union and France look at the problem more from the point of view of regulating and prohibiting," he told AFP on Monday.

"While in some people's eyes (that approach) has merits, for us it is not a question of what has merits but of what is allowable under our constitution," he said.

Minikes explained that the US wishes to encourage self-regulation by the Internet industry: "We cannot regulate speech... Our government should not and cannot tell countries, companies what to do."

"The private sector are certainly smart enough in dealing with non-governmental organisations and others to decide on their own," he argued.As an example, the US version of the Google search engine (www.google.com) includes a disclaimer for results produced by a keyword search for "Jew" - and refers users to the website of the Jewish Anti-Defamation league.

For Suzette Bronkhost, a Dutch official of the International network against cyber hate (www.inach.net), even the US constitution should not allow the most extreme statements, by Holocaust deniers for example, or incitements to crime.

The Netherlands-based organisation Magenta received 1,242 complaints about web-based content in 2003, of which 477 concerned anti-semitic threats and 231 reported Islamophobic statements.

According to Bronkhost, who believes strict self-regulation is the most effective way to tackle the problem, "complaints are only the tip of the iceberg - there are millions of web pages, that cannot all be watched."

But self-regulation does not always work, as shown when a transatlantic row erupted in 2000 over a French court's competence to hear a case against the former boss of the US search engine Yahoo!, accused of illegally selling Nazi memorabilia over the Internet.

Timothy Koogle was brought to court by the Association of Auschwitz Deportees, which said he had broken French laws that ban the exhibition of Nazi uniforms and insignia.

He was acquitted in Feburary 2003, with an appeal hearing planned for later this year.

"States can resort to different legal tools, but all take very seriously threats that call for the death of Arabs and of Jews," said a French source.

France's key concern was to protect young people from harmful propaganda, but not to limit online freedom, the source added.

The Vienna-based OSCE is currently studying answers to a questionnaire sent to member states, concerning national legislation on racism and the Internet.

© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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