Open Internet Principles for Democracy: Putting Media Freedom Front and Center

Last year the editor of Abia Facts Newspaper, a small, local news platform in Nigeria was arrested at his home on charges of blackmail and criminal defamation. According to the state security officers who detained him, his crime was the reporting he had done on a local politician. More startling, however, was the fact that he was being charged under the then new Cybercrime (Prohibition & Prevention) Act of 2015. Rather than being used to target clearly criminal activity, the vague language of the act has been employed to crackdown on freedom of expression online. It is a clear example of how governments are creating new Internet policies and regulations that have the effect of limiting democratic engagement, often to the benefit of those already in power.

Many journalists around the world are facing similar pressures from governments like Nigeria that attempt to use the Internet as a tool to silence the voice of independent media. As Internet freedom worldwide has declined consecutively for the past six years, the promotion of an Internet that is open, secure, and allows users access to news and information is now a top priority for global media development efforts.

Global, multistakeholder initiatives like the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition (IRPC) have developed comprehensive open Internet principles to promote the belief that basic human rights (such as freedom of expression and privacy for journalists) must be respected, protected and fulfilled in the online space. Yet, in a world in which technology is constantly changing and where non-democratic actors are developing new techniques to impede the work of journalists, what these mean in the daily lives of Internet users can sometimes become unclear. For this reason, a multistakeholder network of Internet freedom advocates and institutions including CIMA, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) have partnered to collaboratively develop a Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles.

Based on the IRPC principles, this new framework is meant to capture the importance of open Internet policies for democratic engagement. Journalists, media advocates, and other civil society organizations will be able to use it as a resource to gauge whether Internet policies and practices adopted by governments or corporations are compatible with Internet freedom, and to learn new strategies to advocate for better policies that protect fundamental human rights and democratic values online.

Right now, we are looking for your input to identify the key open Internet principles relevant to media stakeholders and to provide real-world examples of what this looks like in practice for journalists and media development practitioners.

Feedback from the broader media sector is essential to make this framework relevant to both advocacy groups and policymakers. At present, media voices are highly underrepresented in global internet governance debates. Those who are working on policy need to know how to think about open Internet norms from a news media perspective. This means we need real-world examples of how Internet freedom is being circumscribed. We also need information about emerging trends in digital media that will shape how we think about Internet freedom going forward.

In order to check out the current document and add your input, visit The draft Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles is open for public feedback until November 17, 2017. 


Why should  journalists and media development stakeholders contribute to A Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles?
The media sector perspective on open Internet principles is vital to making sure norms and standards being developed reflect the importance of a vibrant media ecosystem.

How will framework be used in the future?
The framework will be used by open Internet advocates and researchers to inform global and regional Internet governance debates. This means it will inform tech companies and government policymakers alike. It will also may be used as a teaching tool for digital rights literacy efforts.

How can I become more involved in this process?
We welcome the participation of people who want to actively shape the final document. If you’re interested in becoming more involved in the development of this framework, please join our network here.

Daniel O’Maley is the Deputy Editor and Digital Policy Specialist at the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA). Find him on Twitter at @domaley

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