4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (II). Regulation of audiovisual content in the age of digital convergence

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session II

Debate
Regulation of audiovisual content in the age of digital convergence

Mónica Ariño, Policy Advisor, OFCOM’s International Team.

What is convergence? What can be said about regulation of content on the Internet and the Internet itself? Privacy, cybercrime, copyright, fair use? Internet access?

A big commitment is how to update broadcasting regulations that where set up in times very different from the ones we’re living in. A first thing to be updated is the concept of media literacy and whether the receiver is media literate.

Another commitment is regulatory cohesion in the international landscape.

Last, maybe the biggest commitment is fighting social alarm about “things” that are “happening” in the Net, especially children exposure to specific content — and people — on the Internet.

So, there seem to be reasons for intervention, though we still have to clearly define where, what and exactly why. In any case, the novelty of it all, and the need to update, seems to be another reason for intervention itself.

What should be regulated and why?

A thing that is clear: Internet is a broadcasting device that competes within a (regulated) sector, such as television or radio. But, in a convergence framework, if TV is moving to other platforms, should its regulation strictly (and without adaptation) follow? Things have changed: scarcity (e.g. of wave spectrum) does not exist anymore, the receiver is also an emitter and a creator, etc.

Freedom of expression has also changed its meaning in this framework… and should not be threaten by regulation, especially bad regulation.

When you subscribe to some content on demand, and the provider is in your same legal jurisdiction, things come easy. The problem is when you can access any content from anywhere.

All in all, regulation should (can) not aim at proving the optimum, a safe Internet, but a second best: to be able to tag some content so the user can approach it with a minimum amount of information.

So, how do we educate audiences?

Some data: all kids and youngsters access the Internet, without surveillance by their parents, who think they are less skilled in Internet issues than their own children are. And them parents don’t even know where to go to get information about content, practices and risks related to them both. Does this give arguments for regulation? Maybe yes.

Self-regulation in some sites (e.g. YouTube) can also be improved, so it is not that opaque, it becomes more flexible and quick, etc.

Filtering software — for seach engines — is another option to help the user contribute to “regulate” access to content.

It is very important that users understand how these tools work, and this is why media literacy is so important. Even more when regulating institutions cannot, by construction, be as flexible and quick in response as the users themselves.

Mónica Ariño, Joan Barata
Mónica Ariño, Joan Barata

Joan Barata, Professor of Administrative Law and President’s Office Manager, Catalan Audiovisual Council (CAC).

The case of Spain is even more complicated, as there is no regulation at the TV content level, and if there was, some problems would arise about the jurisdiction of regionally decentralized regulatory bodies.

An added problem: one thing is whether it is relevant or appropriate to regulate, and the other thing is whether regulation can be enforced. Then, if regulation cannot actually be enforced “in the last mile”, does it make any sense to try to (besides is appropriateness)?

And, indeed, how do we cope with gatekeepers that obscurely apply their own procedures to guarantee “proper” content on their platforms?

Until some years ago, regulation bodies defined what was pluralism and so they defined public services to cover this pluralism. But what is now pluralism? What is pluralism when a few platforms get most traffic? Can we still preserve a democratic public sphere where a national authority defines its own collective identity, when the definition of a collective identity is now in private hands?

Q&A

Carlos Alonso: isn’t the need for regulation a social fiction? i.e. we “need” a regulator (for everything). MA: the problem is not only that regulation might be unnecessary, but that the solution given would be a fake, as the regulator is providing something that cannot be effectively enforced. On the other hand, within the limits of actual regulation, the regulator should not intervene in what can or cannot be shown in a specific platform, mainly because of a lack of context: who’s accessing that platform, why, what for, when, etc. The idea that consumers are the ones responsible of their consumption is the one that should permeate.

Eben Moglen: the idea that content must be safe is ludicrous. There will always be somebody offended by some content of by someone. So there is not even a point in content regulation. And this especially applies from the moment that video will become such a “normal” content on the web as it is now text.

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2008) “4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (II). Regulation of audiovisual content in the age of digital convergence” In ICTlogy, #57, June 2008. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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