FoE logoThe Freedom of Expression Project

Challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression in the networked environment

Shaping a public interest communications environment

info: Submitted by Lisa Horner on Wed, 2008-05-28 13:26.

We are currently working to develop and apply principes to guide policy making and legislation in the networked environment. The concept of the public interest underpins this.

It is firmly linked to liberal democracy and accountable governance. It draws on values of community, dignity, equality and public participation in society. It can help to balance competing claims and interests in society, bringing democratic values into consideration rather than sectional or individual interests alone.

It is flexible and can protect citizens and consumers in a wide range of situations. While this flexibility is a strength, definitions of the public interest need to be rooted in individual human rights as defined in international law. Human rights are the foundation of any democratic society, and any policy that violates human rights cannot be in the public interest.

Taken together, the concepts of human rights and the public interest can help policy makers to balance individual and collective interests, to foster just and democratic societies that support human advancement.

A layer model for understanding the communications environment

We are developing principles based on a layer model of the networked communications environment. This model considers the actors and organisations that have power and control at different layers:

  • content itself – the data, images and music we access and create
  • applications - how we use networked communications and the applications that guide us through content, such as search engines
  • connectivity – the protocols that enable devices and networks to talk to each other
  • infrastructure – the physical harware such as computers, network cables and transmitters.

It also considers the forces that shape these different layers and the roles of people as users, consumers and shapers of technology. It is about all communications platforms, the issues that arise from convergence between them and the people that use them; the communications environment in its entirety. We believe that this is important during the ongoing process of convergence around internet protocol.

Developing policy principles

Draft policy principles were agreed in April 2008 by the Project partners, with input from academic, civil society and business experts. These draft principles bring together the learning and research from phase 1, as a starting point for discussion amongst civil society, government and business stakeholders.

Click here to read the latest draft of the policy principles

Click here to read and comment on a mapping of other initiatives relevant to these principles. We have undertaken an outline mapping of existing agreements and principles, setting them in the context of global governance arrangements. This paper considers their policy scope and their mechanisms of operating.

Download a PDF copy of a briefing paper detailing our work by clicking here