018. Press and internet freedom 2014, a conference in Istanbul, looking back

Work at a Consulate focuses on consular and economic matters, but human rights have their place as well. We have our Matra and human right programs and follow what is happening in Turkey of course. An example is the 9th Internet Governance Forum. A week with many meetings and little sleep.

This year, Turkey was hosting the 9th Internet Governance Forum. It took place in Istanbul in the first week of September. I had not heard before of the Internet Governance Forum, but this under the UN auspices organized conference has been contributing for years to the further development of a safe, democratic and stable internet. This is no easy task!

Freedom of expression is essential and its defense is one of the key objectives of the Dutch human rights’ policy. So, also from this perspective, a very interesting conference, with for me many discussions, during a network event organized by Freedom House and attending a panel with EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes at Istanbul Bilgi University (“Free speech is a must for joining EU family”) to meetings with the Turkish Telecom authorities.

The organization committee of the Internet Governance Forum has always been cautious with proposals for workshops in which criticism is ventilated at the host country. The organization committee went, according to some NGO’s and academicians, this time too far. For this reason they boycotted the International Governance Forum and organized the “Ungovernance Forum”.

Internet has become the platform where existing human rights topics are being discussed in a new context and with a new twist; the free access to Twitter or Facebook has become a human right. Rules of the internet game that seem to be logic, can easily turn into censorship. And where until recently we assumed that social media could empower the population (“Arabic Spring”), it now seems that the progressing technique enables ill willing regimes to monitor their nationals at length.

Who follows Turkey is aware of the ongoing discussions on media and internet freedom. The Twitter-ban in the beginning of the year drew a lot of international attention, including that of Dutch members of Parliament. This ban was abolished after a few months by the Constitutional court after two academicians had filed a court case. These two have more cases related to closed websites.

The 2,500 participants of the 9th Internet Governance Forum came from all over the world and from many different sectors: governments, companies, politicians, technicians, scientists, civil society, youngsters and journalists. The Netherlands was well represented with a broad delegation of 33 persons. In addition there were also 20 pirates/hackers. We also welcomed our former minister of Foreign Affairs, Uri Rosenthal, participating as the Special Envoy of the Netherlands to promote the international participation to a cyberspace conference next year in the Netherlands. I met him at the airport at 03.00 AM in the morning at the airport and at 09.00 AM he was chairing his first meeting. Respect!

At the Consulate we organized for the Dutch participants a seminar on internet and press freedom in Turkey, in order to provide them with a better picture of the many, often polarized discussions in Turkey. For Special Envoy Rosenthal we organized a similar meeting at the Consulate.

Was it a useful conference? Yes, but with limited local impact as the Turkish media hardly paid any attention to the conference and it did not pay much attention to the current discussions on media and internet freedom in Turkey.

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