Wednesday, June 18, 2003

SPEAKING OF THE STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM, the Council of Europe is currently considering a "right of reply in the on-line environment." In other words, if you mention someone in any online publication, including a blog, you will have to grant space to or link to their reply if they wish to give one. This article by Declan McCullagh in News.Com tells all about it. An excerpt:

Why Europe still doesn't get the Internet (again, via Andrew Sullivan)


The all-but-final proposal draft says that Internet news organizations, individual Web sites, moderated mailing lists and even Web logs (or "blogs"), must offer a "right of reply" to those who have been criticized by a person or organization.

With clinical precision, the council's bureaucracy had decided exactly what would be required. Some excerpts from its proposal:

� "The reply should be made publicly available in a prominent place for a period of time (that) is at least equal to the period of time during which the contested information was publicly available, but, in any case, no less than for 24 hours."

� Hyperlinking to a reply is acceptable. "It may be considered sufficient to publish (the reply) or make available a link to it" from the spot of the original mention.

� "So long as the contested information is available online, the reply should be attached to it, for example through a clearly visible link."

� Long replies are fine. "There should be flexibility regarding the length of the reply, since there are (fewer) capacity limits for content than (there are) in off-line media."


I didn't want to believe it was true, but here is the actual document from the Council of Europe website. Regular readers will be aware that I am very careful to link to sites that comment on what I say here when I become aware of them and either to make corrections or to explain why I disagree with the comment. But that's what I do because I want to maintain my own credibility. If someone wants to exercise their freedom of speech and not acknowledge criticism or corrections on their own private site, they should be able to do that - and to live with what it does to their credibility. And there are cases where I might not link. If, say, the Iranian mullahs said something bad about me, I would probably only link to it if I happened to feel like making fun of them. And I would not link to a Neo-Nazi site under any circumstances. And I generally won't bother to link if I think a comment is frivolous.

The opportunities for abuse are staggering. If an individual blogger expressed an unpopular view or one that disagreed with the government, opponents - government or otherwise - could bury that person in demands for reply until they shut down the blog.

So I strongly encourage the British Government to ignore this recommendation to pass such laws.

And I strongly encourage the Council of Europe to go to hell.

Sorry for all the politics this morning. I'll try to get back to ancient Judaism later today.

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