Serbia: Conference on Regulation of online Freedom of Expression

By EDRi · October 8, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

On 8 and 9 September 2008, the Faculty of Political Sciences of the
University of Belgrade hosted the international conference on regulation of
freedom of expression on the Internet, organized by the Programme in
Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) of the University of Oxford.
EDRi-member Metamorphosis Foundation participated with a presentation of the
Macedonian experiences in this area.

The dean of the Faculty of political sciences Milan Podunavac reported that
as part of the efforts to overcome the negative legacy from the Serbian
past-as a postwar, post-dictatorial and post-communist society-the faculty
intends to introduce a subject for media law and new media law. The
Ambassador of the Council of Europe (CoE), Constantin Jerokostopulos,
indicated that the freedom of expression and communication must be
respected, with an exception of the contents defined as illegal by the law.

Jelena Surculija, Assistant Minister of Telecommunications and Information
Society and PCMLP representative for Serbia pointed out that regulatory
challenges include authenticity of the information and availability of
content published abroad in countries where such content is illegal. She
differentiated between blogging as form of expression dealing mainly with
personal information and perceptions, including publishing on systems, and citizen journalism as a new form of
journalism which for the time being remains unacknowledged due to issues of
ethics and media registration.

Prof. David Goldberg from the University of Oxford started with the basic
assumption that “blogging is simply a form of expression, of writing, and as
such it is entitled to maximum protection.” He pointed out that it is a
“misleading metaphor to speak about ‘balance.’ The default position is
promotion of freedom of expression with some very limited exceptions.”
Speaking about the challenges, prof. Goldberg suggested the possible need to
define a new term for political blogs – plogs, and also noted that current
estimates on the number of blogs probably underestimate their quantity,
considering also the fact that “22 of the 100 most popular websites are

Referring to a recent UK case when a convicted criminal posted a threat to
his arresting officer (“PC Lloyd, God help your newborn baby”) and was
charged under Telecommunications Act, prof. Goldberg stated that there’s “no
need for new laws, there’s plenty of legislation lying around” which can be
used to tackle the blogging-related problems. On the other hand, the need
for anti-SLAP legislation-preventing centers of power such as corporations
to use strategic lawsuits against the public-grows, to insure freedom of
expression for the individual authors or content providers.

Council of Europe Expert Ad Van Loon also pointed out that human rights
protection, and especially freedom of expression, lies at the core of the
CoE regulatory framework for content on the internet. These rights remain
under threat in countries which do no meet their international obligations,
but can also be influenced by other factors, such as copyright.

Legal experts Slobodan Kremenjak, Attorney-at-Law, and Snezana
Smolovic-Green from the Association of the Independent Electronic Media
presented the legal framework for protection of personal data and privacy
protection in online and offline media. Serbian institutions responsible for
these areas include the Ombudsman and the Representative for information of
public importance. In this context, prof. Dirk Voorhoof from the University
of Gent Belgium pointed out that the related right to anonymity can be
jeopardized by various threats, both legal and technical.

Media law expert Inger Hoedt-Rasmussen provided insight in the Danish
experiences in the area of protection of rights of children on the
internet, based on the premise that bad things are just a small part of the
possibilities offered by the new technologies. The threats can be minimized
through awareness raising and increasing of knowledge much better than
through state mechanisms of control and censorship. She noted that kids as
digital natives have far more knowledge and skills about the new
technologies than their parents who attempt to help them. The dangers, such
as paedophile predators, did not appear because of the internet, they were
part of life in the past too. Caregivers had modes of preventing such
threats in the past, such as instructing choir boys when going on tour to
immediately report if some “uncle” follows them around claiming he’s very
interested in music.

During the panel devoted to regulation and/or self-regulation on the
internet, Andrei Richter, the director of the Moscow Media Law and Policy
Institute pointed out the serious issues present in Russia and the
Commonwealth of Independent States. The most drastic example is the arrest
and murder of the owner of the website He referred to the
little known fact that Belarus is among the most productive post-Soviet
republics in terms of internet content production, second only to EU-member
Baltic States, while the states of Central Asia, which have very liberal
legislative framework, lag behind. Prof. Richter pointed out that repressive
legal frameworks often take the back seat to education levels and cultural
factors in preventing content creation, which in turn incites freedom of
expression. Due to its size, Russia has the largest content production in
absolute terms, and “it is clear that (the Government) cannot control the
internet any more.” Influencing factor is whether the states treat the
internet as mass media or not, which implies varied status in legislative
terms. For instance in Georgia where mass media have nominal protection this
leads to increased freedom of expression on the internet. In Russia, sadly
“the whole system of self-regulation consists of a telephone call from the
security services.” Participants in the discussion concurred that the
situation in Serbia used to be similar.

Metamorphosis Foundation representative Filip Stojanovski spoke about the
situation in Macedonia as an example of a Western Balkans country. In
general, there is no formal regulation of the internet. ISPs claim that they
do not filter the content published on their servers, and remove content
only by court order. In some cases the generally accepted value of freedom
of expression leads to tolerance to forms of hate speech. Lack of official
standards for the governmental websites combined with the silence of the
administration makes it harder for the citizens to get the information from
the state structures. Spam is a form of regulated content – forbidden by the
Law on Electronic Communications (2005) but to the best of the public
knowledge, the regulatory body in charge of enforcing this law (
has not implemented these provisions so far. Positive examples of
self/regulation include the house rules of blogging service Blogeraj, the
efforts to increase privacy protection by the Directorate for Personal Data
Protection and the NGO sector, chiefly the project Children’s Rights on the
Internet – Safe and Protected.

Slobodan Markovic, president of the Center for Internet Development from
Belgrade addressed freedom of expression issues related to the internet
domain names. On global level ICANN implements the Domain Name Dispute
Resolution Policies. Through an inclusive consensus building process, the
relevant stakeholders in Serbia established a new domain registrar. The
mechanism for resolution of disputes relies on court arbitration, which is
part of the original contract for purchase of domains. In a similar painless
fashion the process of migration from the old .yu to the new .rs top domain
is taking place. The owners of the old domains have an advantage in the
process of (re)registration, and the old addresses will remain valid for
about a year more.

Participants in the conference included representatives of the state
institutions, regulatory bodies, the nongovernmental and the business sector
of Serbia. Both the panels and the subsequent discussions served to pass on
the knowledge helpful to inciting reform processes toward the harmonization
of the legal and institutional frameworks with the European standards.

Conference Agenda (08.09.2008)

Serbia: Conference on Regulation of Freedom of Expression on the Internet

(contribution by Filip Stojanovski – EDRi-member Metamorphosis Foundation – Macedonia)