Hi Blog. Here’s another development in the pipeline: the regulation of Internet speech, to stop “illegal and harmful content”. Libel, sure. But you know it’s just not going to stop there.
I have very mixed feelings about this issue. I am of course an advocate of freedom of speech. But I have also been the target of Internet libel myself, confirmed by a Japanese court victory more than two years ago, and never requited by the Defendant BBS 2-Channel. By exploiting the lack of Contempt of Court in this society (i.e. the means to change a Civil Case into a Criminal Case, including arrest and confiscation, if court verdicts are not followed), fools like the people who run 2-Channel will wind up empowering those who wish to justify these sorts of policy pushes to regulate freedom of expression.
And once it starts, it’s only a matter of time and degree. Wait and see. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Japan seeking to govern top news Web sites
By Michael Fitzpatrick
International Herald Tribune Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Courtesy Jeff Korpa
TOKYO: A Japanese government panel is proposing to govern “influential, widely read news-related sites as newspapers and broadcasting are now regulated.”
The government is also seeking to rein in some of the more unsavory aspects of the Internet, leaving in its wake, critics say, the censoring hand of government interference.
The panel, set up by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, said Internet service providers (ISPs) should be answerable for breaches of vaguer “minimum regulations” to guard against “illegal and harmful content.”
The conservative government, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, is seeking to have the new laws passed by Parliament in 2010.
“Japan’s Internet is increasing its clout, so naturally the government wants to control it,” said Kazuo Hizumi, a former journalist who is the Tokyo city lawyer.
To better understand why a country better known for its information-technology prowess would take such steps, it is vital to understand the establishment’s relationship with the media since the Americans ceded wartime power in the 1950s, Hizumi said.
“Soon after the war we followed the U.S. model with the government issuing licenses through the FCC,” Hizumi said. “As one party, the LDP, came to dominate politics, it sought more control of the media so the FCC was abolished. There is no ombudsman here, so the government controls the media directly. With this new bill, the LDP will seek to do the same for the Internet.”
Certainly, such a construct has benefited the LDP, which has enjoyed nearly unbroken rule in Japan since 1955. Since then, government’s cozy relationship with big media has become legendary, as has the media’s self-censorship, which, Hizumi said, had repeatedly restricted the spectrum of voices heard – until the arrival of the Internet started to open the field up to dissent.
“The Internet threatens the government, but the new law will put the government back in control by making the ISPs directly answerable to the government,” Hizumi said. “This is the untenable position we are facing in Japan.”
Tokyo, for its part, maintains it is merely seeking to bring some accountability to Japan’s often wild – and sometimes libelous – Internet.
“The criticism that the report amounts to a call for censoring the Japanese Web” is completely unfounded, the Communications Ministry said in a statement. “Furthermore, the report takes the position that Japan should abstain from adopting regulations aimed at promoting government censorship or restriction of Internet content, such as blogs, and calls for examining the creation of a framework for promoting voluntary action by ISP and others as a means of dealing with illegal and harmful material.”
Such “voluntary action” has already been felt this month by the country’s mobile-services providers, who have been requested to filter certain content to all phones registered to people under 18. Previously such filtering had to be switched on; now it will take a guardian to switch it off.
A commendable effort by government and service providers, any right-thinking citizen might think, to protect the young. However, Japanese bloggers, wary of future controls on the larger Internet, have been busy pointing to the less obvious material that is also being filtered out on the mobile Internet.
The existing filtering services in use by the leading Japanese provider, DoCoMo, for example, reveals that categories like “religion” and “political activity/party” are filtered by the software.
“We have also perhaps a taste with what’s to come by looking at the filtering software used by certain local governments up and down the country,” Hizumi said.
What really strikes Hizumi and others is that there is so little public opposition or debate on a bill that would bring enormous change.
Chris Salzberg, who monitors, comments on and translates some of the Japanese blogosphere for Global Voices, an international blog round-up, said: “It seems that the Web community in Japan is really pretty unaware of all of this, or else just in disbelief. It’s a strange situation. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it still seems like something people should at least be paying attention to.”
“I’m afraid ordinary citizens don’t care about these lack of rights, consequently the Internet in Japan is heading for the Dark Ages,” Hizumi said.
5 comments on “IHT: GOJ to “govern influential, widely read news-related websites”. Like 2-Channel”
I simply can’t understand how you could have mixed feelings on this topic. The government should have no control on the internet whatsoever. Period. The internet, or freedom of information, comes at the price of being able to accept that there are people who you won’t agree with out there…and that includes libelous statements. Any government that is allowed to put controls on the net is one with too much power and it raises the question of how much control is enough or too much.
Simply put, there is absolutely no way to possibly contain information. This is one of the new realities of the modern era. Even in China where the internet is heavily censored, people have still found ways to get access to outside information.
To clearly explain why the idea of controls is so ridiculous take the Streisand Effect as an example:
–I’m not surprised you can’t understand. But wait until you become the target of an Internet libel campaign. Then you might change your mind…
Is there an alternative to 2 channel that isn’t quite so ridiculous? I like the fact they get out of the controlled discussions in the major media and typical websites, but they could use a little adult supervision at times. I would hope that other users agree that an alternative would be an improvement.
You may want to consider it a point of pride that someone or some group is willing to go to the effort to libel you. It may be small compensation, but it means you must be doing something right. In this world, good people end up slimed, fired, or assassinated, while bad people get the Presidential Medal of Honor.
–Thanks. What I want is the judicial ruling served. I won in court. For a charge of libel, officially acknowledged. The fact that the judiciary can’t prosecute the case further (by showing an inability to turn a Civil Case into a Criminal Case) indicates just how flawed the Japanese judiciary is… And it’s only going to bring about a backlash that will hurt everybody’s freedom of expression.
Your supporting words are indeed compensation, but I’ve been granted another form of compensation that has not yet been served 🙂 Debito
we will (not) talk again about this issue when the law passes and your website will be shut down for its harmful content.
I really can’t understand how you can say on the one hand that you are an advocate of freedom of speech and on the other hand being so stubborn in defending the ruling against 2channel in which you were involved, which eventually amounts to supporting internet censorship.
I understand that the fact that you were targeted may impair your view of the problem but your position at the moment is not consistent. The very fact that you decided to sue demonstrates that you value censorship preferable to freedom of speech. Not a nice record, for a HR activist, IMHO.
Anyway, thanks for your work, I won’t stop reading your newsletter for this, but I just wanted to let you know my impressions.
–Thanks for continuing to read my Newsletter. Now please read up on the case on my site. My arguments are there. Maybe then you can understand how I square the two.
It’s pretty clear to me that your mixed feelings are more the variety of Yes, let freedom of speech and the press prevail, and With freedom comes responsibility, and failure to be responsible has consequences. The consequences of irresponsible press and speech are lawsuits. This is the main brake on press and speech freedom. I don’t see anything contradictory in your view.
I quite disagree with a view that says an activist who is staunchly for freedom of expression is a hypocrite if he engages a libel suit against those who spread terrible personal lies about him and his character. The libel suit is not an attempt at censorship, but an attempt to force the liars to take responsibility for their lies and to expose the lies for what they are. The press and speech freedoms we have do not give us license to use them irresponsibly.
–Thanks Gene. That’s what I argued in court, and won. People who can’t even be bothered to ponder what you’ve fully digested above (and instead just shriek “freedom means you can say anything!”) are being intellectually lazy.
thanks for your comments and replies.
What I want to say is that you cannot say you’re an advocate of freedom of speech and at the same time agree with libel laws, because libel laws are just one way of denying freedom of speech -the other being governmental censorship.
This is not the appropriate space to debate freedom of speech and its foundations but I just wanted to point out that freedom of speech either is absolute, either it is not. Of course nobody will ever sue somebody else because of his kind, considerate speech; freedom of speech is there to defend irritating speech. As far as I know, ACLU defended the freedom of speech of nazi organizations in the US. I do not agree with nazi ideas but I hold in great consideration ACLU decision to stick to a principle and defend it consistently until its extreme, however logical, consequences, no matter the people involved and the circumstances of the case, no matter how heinous that speech might be.
Debito, I wouldn’t lose time in writing these lines -in a language which is not my mother tongue- if I wouldn’t esteem your HR activities.
But, as for what regards freedom of speech, I am afraid to say you are a /moderate/ advocate of freedom of speech. Which may amount to say, if you think that freedom of speech is either absolute or it is not, that you are not an advocate of freedom of speech.
The interesting thing about a HR activist having such a moderate conception of freedom of speech is simple: one day your speech might be found libelous by somebody else, and you’re justifying this. In other words you’re giving a judge, i.e. the government, the instruments to curb your freedom of speech. Is that what you want?
ps: the fact that you won in court does not have any importance to me, it just shows that the current japanese legal system, on that particular occasion, was on your side, but says nothing about the ethical dimension and the practical consequences of libel laws.
pps: I won’t sue you for the “intellectually lazy” remark, it tells nothing about myself.