How Unnecessary Online Restrictions Can Affect Innovation in Journalism

By Demba Kandeh

Innovations are necessary in all fields, including journalism

Scholars of democracy, human rights and journalism tell us that three are a fundamental part of a progressive society anywhere. the birth of the Internet marked the end of an era and the beginning of another in the governance regimes. Proponents of democracy, especially liberal democracy saw a tool for better governance through improved participation of the citizenry. The human rights community foresaw a more open and transparent society where the respect of basic human rights will be guaranteed. Journalism and journalists on the other hand have to adapt to the new challenges and opportunities herald by the Internet. But as we adapt to the challenges and harness the opportunities through innovation, unnecessary online restrictions can hamper optimum progress. How?

World map of freedom on the Net by Freedom House

The “great firewall of China”
The first global internet freedom rating report was launched by Freedom House, a United States based human rights non-governmental organisation. The freedom of the Net report, first published in 2009 and annually since 2011 evaluates internet policies and practices around the world ranking countries on a scale of 1 to 100 points. Country performances are assessed under three broad categories: obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights with results rated as “Free” (0 to 30), “Partly Free” (31 to 60), or “Not Free” (61 to 100). The latest FOTN report (2015) revealed that for a fifth consecutive year, Internet freedom is on the decline globally with many countries adopting more surveillance technologies limiting and prohibiting online anonymity. The report said:

“Democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.”

The expansion of the “great firewall of China” within and outside China is growing. Since the Snowden leaks, democracies no longer hold the moral high ground in addressing Internet governance issues particularly surveillance and privacy. So far the tighten of the online space through legislation and unconvential practices has harmed trust in online activities thereby limiting greater possible collaboration for innovation.

Copy right in the EU
There is no doubt that the Internet connects people around the world in an unprecedented way. But as connection increases there are still barriers that limit the quality of those connections. Copyright issues in the European Union have brewed up recently following the launch of a proposal to make “EU copyright rules fit for the digital age”. This comes at a very crucial time as the Juncker Commission continues to pursue its much talked about “digital single market” proposal. Special focus in put on the right to link, a fundamental practice in the online world. Whereas the draft EU copyright proposal excludes tax for linking some activists argue that the proposal is not explicit enough on linking. Activists even gone further to state that the draft proposal is indicative of the Commission’s lack of proper understanding of linking as a basic communication act on the internet.

“If this “snippeting” is made subject to copyright law, this would be the end to effective linking. It would be the end to tweeting and sharing news on Facebook and many other ways to exchange information online!” wrote Till Kreutzer of the Germany based Initiative Against Ancillary Copyright.

But what the EU and other regulators should know is their actions and inaction on Internet related regulations also impact innovations in general, not least in journalism innovations. If users cannot link or share links freely on the Internet without fear of violating copyright then, the space for sharing is seriously at risk.

As more people go online and as the world move to digitalise, there is an unprecedented need to provide an enabling environment for more innovations. Needless to say there is maximum need to increase space for journalism innovations, which often lead to better and more rewarding experience online.