Partnerships can tackle challenges in communications regulation

31/01/2020
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Communications regulators from around the world came together in Rabat, Morocco, this week to debate their challenges. The issues were summed up in the title of the conference: “Regulation of media in a digital, mobile and social environment: adapting, reforming, rebuilding”.

“Media regulators are more than ever expected to enhance the democratic values of pluralism and fair expression of thoughts and opinions,” states the concept note of the event, convened by the Moroccan High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HACA).

The concept note observes that regulators are under growing pressure from public opinion about issues such as combating hate speech, protecting personal data and handling the risks of artificial intelligence. “To meet these new expectations, modalities and stakeholders of this new regulatory paradigm are yet to be defined,” it states.

Within this context, UNESCO’s director for strategy and policy in the Communication and Information Sector, Guy Berger, shared how the work of the organization could be of help to regulators.

“To meet the challenges, you can do well to see yourselves as educators, not only regulators,” he said, highlighting their potential in promoting media and information literacy (MIL) in these new times.

“Society needs these literacies to be developed in the schools, in the media outlets that you licence, and in your own work,” he said. “All this calls out for partnerships across the board to create public understanding of freedom of expression, quality communications and the role of regulation.”

In addition to joining up educational efforts with other actors, regulators could also explain their role to the public during key occasions like World Radio Day and the International Day for Universal Access to information, said the director.

The UNESCO official also recalled the definition of governance agreed at the World Summit on the Information Society, which points to “the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes.”

He motivated that “this context of governance is relevant to regulators as it underlines how, in the way you implement rules and evaluate your practice, you can do well to pursue multi-stakeholder consultation with government, business and civil society”.

To deal with the challenges of regulating Internet-based communications, Berger advocated further that regulators step up their engagement with the “upstream area” of Internet governance, such as by drawing on the ROAM principles agreed by UNESCO member states.

This four-part frame could help guide regulation decisions as well as public communications about regulation, because it highlights that regulators have a role in advancing human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multistakeholder participation in the governance of communications.

At the same time, Berger noted, the rise of Artificial Intelligence complicates the capacity to regulate the downstream level of “decision-making procedures and programmes” within the bigger picture of governance.

“The good news is that the governments who represent you at UNESCO will be considering next year whether to adopt a normative instrument for ethics in Artificial Intelligence,” said Berger.

This development, if agreed, would operate at the “upstream” level of “principles and norms” of governance, and it could help meet regulators’ interests in seeing parameters in place for automated “decision-making and programmes” within communications operations.

Berger also mentioned the UNESCO Internet Universality Indicators, and encouraged regulators to be become involved when such studies took place in their countries.