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Communication regulators seek partnership to combat hate speech


A cross section of participants at the conference in Morocco

Communication and media regulators around the world are constantly under pressure on how to combat hate speech, protect personal data and handle the risks of artificial intelligence.

Last week, experts from around the world converged on Rabat, Morocco, to possibly find solution to this modern challenge under the theme, “Regulation of media in a digital, mobile and social environment: adapting, reforming, rebuilding.”

They argued that media regulators, more than ever, were expected to enhance the democratic values of pluralism and fair expression of thoughts and opinions.To meet these expectations, the concept note, however, they observed that the modalities and stakeholders of the new regulatory paradigm were yet to be defined.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) director for strategy and policy in the Communication and Information Sector, Guy Berger, said his organisation could help the regulators to achieve their goal.

According to him, “to meet the challenges, you can do well to see yourselves as educators, not only regulators.” Highlighting their potential in promoting media and information literacy (MIL) in these new times, he said, “society needs these literacies to be developed in the schools, in the media outlets that you license, and in your own work.” He said: “All this calls out for partnerships across the board to create public understanding of freedom of expression, quality communications and the role of regulation.”

Berger advised the regulators to explain their role to the public during key occasions like World Radio Day and the International Day for Universal Access to information. He recalled the definition of governance agreed at the World Summit on the Information Society, which points to “the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes.”

According to him, “this context of governance is relevant to regulators as it underlines how, in the way you implement rules and evaluate your practice, you can do well to pursue multi-stakeholder consultation with government, business and civil society.”

To deal with the challenges of regulating Internet-based communications, Berger advocated that regulators step up their engagement with the “upstream area” of Internet governance, by drawing on the ROAM (Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder participation) principles agreed by UNESCO member states.

“This four-part frame could help guide regulation decisions as well as public communications about regulation, because it highlights that regulators have a role in advancing ROAM in the governance of communications. Berger noted, the rise of Artificial Intelligence complicates the capacity to regulate the downstream level of “decision-making procedures and programmes” within the bigger picture of governance.

“The good news is that the governments who represent you at UNESCO will be considering next year whether to adopt a normative instrument for ethics in Artificial Intelligence,” said Berger.

This development, if agreed, would operate at the “upstream” level of “principles and norms” of governance, and it could help meet regulators’ interests in seeing parameters in place for automated “decision-making and programmes” within communications operations.

Berger also mentioned the UNESCO Internet Universality Indicators, and encouraged regulators to be become involved when such studies took place in their countries.However, brand analyst, Ikem Okuhu does not believe that partnerships between and among regulatory agencies was capable of tackling challenges in communications.

He told The Guardian, “these regulators do not initiate communications. Neither do they manage Communication traffic. I am one of those that believe the best way to tackle these challenges is the use of technology to track, identify and punish those that propagate and spread such news.

“Every communication these days has paper trails. There are footprints everywhere we pass on the Internet. These paper trails are the most effective means of managing it. I also think we should not be stressing communication regulation in a free society. There are laws already to take care of libel, sedition and slander. These laws are enough. The over emphasis on regulation is given the impression that we are sliding into fascism and tyranny and this is not the conversation we should be having now.”

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