Atlanta Out Loud

Politics and rantings and just stuff that catches my attention.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Daniel Weintraub: United Nations moving to curb free expression
Two big projects incubating deep within the United Nations should give pause to anybody who values political and personal freedom.

The United Nations is busy trying to regulate two key pillars of free expression: content and the means to communicate it. In this case, that means popular culture and the Internet.

One project is the longstanding goal of the Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions. That Orwellian mouthful is cover for a proposed policy to use governments to prevent individuals worldwide from gaining access to whatever culture and art they prefer to see and hear.

Although it is being done under the guise of protecting the people of developing countries from the influence of first-world - namely American - culture and art, many first-world governments, including France and Canada, have been enthusiastic supporters. They see it as a way to protect their national identities, as defined by their governments and frozen in time.


Still, with overwhelming support in the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), the culture policy seems destined for approval this week. Only the United States and Israel stand opposed. The United States won't have to comply directly with the policy's edicts if our government does not ratify the agreement, but artists here who value a worldwide audience for their works still could suffer.

The latest draft of the policy is vague enough to justify pretty much any governmental intervention. It says, for example, that parties to the agreement may take "all appropriate measures to protect and preserve" their countries' culture once they deem it "in need of urgent safeguarding."


Will U.N.-sponsored thought control prove futile in the age of digital communications? One would think that with access to the Internet, people all over the world will eventually find a way to obtain any kind of art or cultural expression they like, even those their governments have deemed unacceptable. That's where the other United Nations project comes in.

The Working Group on Internet Governance has been toiling for years on a policy to shift control of the Internet from the United States, where the 'Net was created and nurtured, to an international body.


Chinese Web-loggers, who already must register their journals with the government, were recently dealt another blow when Microsoft agreed to block the use of words offensive to that nation's dictators - including "freedom," "democracy" and "demonstration" - on blogs composed on Microsoft's MSN service. And Cuba's Fidel Castro recently cracked down on librarians seeking to provide access to banned books. Does his government have an interest in keeping the Internet free?

American conservatives have long been suspicious of the United Nations, in part because too many of its members are nations run by tyrannical thugs, not democracies. For some reason that hasn't bothered those on the left who say they value human rights and freedom for oppressed peoples.

Now that the U.N. is moving actively to justify restrictions on free expression and to take over the technology that promises to level historic barriers to communication, perhaps even those who have looked the other way for too long will recognize that the only way to truly protect cultural diversity is to allow every person on the globe the freedom to think, write, hear and express themselves in whatever way they like.
Don't ya just love the UN???!?


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