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Media development and digital policy issues unite at the 12th Internet Governance Forum

17 January 2018
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Looking back, 2017 was marked by a number of relevant new as well as ongoing developments to the global media landscape. From fake news and content policy, to the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) and the growth of cryptocurrencies, new issues are constantly emerging that challenge existing thought and practice vis-à-vis digital publishing and platform responsibility. Indeed, as the digital policy landscape continues to change and evolve, so will the media development community’s strategies need to adapt in order to continue to promote the creation, dissemination, and uptake of objective, high-quality information.

With this in mind, the 12th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) wrapped up on 21 December after four days of intense discussions in Geneva, Switzerland. The IGF is an annual, multi-stakeholder dialogue platform held under the auspices of the United Nations that facilitates conversations and collaboration between stakeholders regarding Internet policy issues and emerging trends related to the Internet on equal footing. Hosted at the Palace of Nations this year, the IGF hosted more than 2,000 in-person participants that scurried between over 100 sessions covering a number of issues ranging from the impacts of social media on the brain and how to better connect the next billion people to the Internet (as per the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Agenda), to the relationship between environmental sustainability and the Internet, and how we can better communicate Internet governance in general.

Every year, the Geneva-based organization DiploFoundation through its GIP Digital Watch platform provides just-in-time reporting, which features a report from every IGF session, daily summaries, and a final report summarizing all of the hot topics discussed during the weeklong meeting. As the final report indicated, “IGF 2017 reflected on a very turbulent year in global politics, with a number of issues resonating throughout the week: values on the Internet, digital future and frontier issues, dealing with data, cybersecurity, and digital commerce, and the need for action and capacity development.” Although the report explores the topics and themes discussed at the IGF in more detail, issues like how to address fake news, combatting hate speech, youth participation, cybersecurity, privacy, sustainable development, intermediary liability, network neutrality, AI, digital commerce, and data protection – including the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – dominated the debates and discussions.

Since I began attending the IGF in 2015, one area of improvement I have witnessed that I am most excited by is the increased engagement by media professionals in general, but the media development community in particular. In addition to the topics highlighted above, IGF 2017 saw one of the first times at an IGF that various organizations and professionals came together to address the links and gaps between the Internet governance and media development communities. Building on a joint report published in 2017 by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and ARTICLE 19 highlighting the multiple ways that media development professionals can get more engaged in Internet governance, GFMD along with CIMA, ARTICLE 19, International Media Support (IMS), and Fondation Hirondelle hosted a comprehensive day-0 workshop titled “Setting the Agenda: Media Development and Internet Governance” on 18 December. The workshop brought media development professionals together with members of the Internet governance community who are also involved in digital rights- and media-related activities to explore the digital policy issues the media development should prioritize going forward, and to identify gaps that need to be filled in terms of spurring involvement and engagement. The workshop was productive and fruitful, and also underscored the importance of a focused and prioritized agenda, the need for additional capacity building, and the value of creating a community for media development professionals within the IGF ecosystem.

 Other than the workshop, there were multiple sessions relevant to media development held throughout the week, such as:

  • A Global South perspective on fake news and content regulation (link);
  • The relationship between copyright, local content, and media regulation (link),
  • Fake news, AI trolls, and disinformation (link); and
  • Global perspectives on combatting online misinformation, fighting fake news, and protecting free speech (link),

The IGF also included a workshop addressing threats to democratic processes online, which was hosted by CIMA, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The workshop also built on their joint release of the final draft of A Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles. The Framework, written by the diverse voices of local and multinational organizations, citizen activists, media representatives, civil society organizations, and members of the local private sector, CIPE noted, highlights how an open Internet is crucial for protecting and preserving democratic dialogue online, and provides guidelines to help frame and structure Internet discussions.

Aside from the Open Internet Principles, another relevant event that featured discussions about media-related guidelines was an open forum organized by the Council of Europe (CoE) that addressed the shared commitments and corporate responsibility of Internet intermediaries, such as social media platforms, Internet service providers, and media content distributors (e.g., news outlets such as The Guardian, CNN, Disney, etc.), along with issues such as privacy, data protection, human rights online, and other related topics (read the session report here). The open forum presented the CoE’s Draft Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the Roles and Responsibilities of Internet Intermediaries, which is essentially the first document of its kind that differentiates between the various activities intermediaries engage in. One of the key passages that is relevant to the media and journalism community is: “In cases where the function of intermediaries consists of producing or managing content available on their platforms or where intermediaries perform curatorial or editorial-like functions, including through operation of algorithms, state authorities should apply an approach that is differentiated and graduated in line with Recommendation CM/Rec(2011)7 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on a new notion of media. They should acknowledge in particular the role that intermediaries play in content production and dissemination and guarantee the appropriate level of protection, while providing a clear indication of the ensuing duties and responsibilities.”

The media development’s engagement in IGF 2017 was an overwhelming success. One of the biggest takeaways from the week as well, aside from the new and more intimately connected network it fostered, was the clear benefits of getting involved. As the aforementioned workshop on threats to democracy demonstrated as well, there are multiple opportunities for collaboration between the media development and the Internet governance as well as wider digital rights and democratization communities in general that are ripe for exploration.

In case you are unsure of how to engage more actively in the Internet governance community, I put together a quick getting involved guide for anyone working in media development, which CIMA published on its blog. We encourage media development organizations, especially members of our network, to get more involved in Internet governance, and GFMD along with our partners are happy to help you do so as well as provide information and capacity building, such as through our existing webinar series.

We wish everyone a happy and productive 2018, and hope the New Year will bring about unprecedented engagement in digital policy by our community!

Michael J. Oghia