Editorial | No Internet overreach
We sense urgency - if not a frustration at the challenges - among the big honchos at the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ) to evolve the regulatory capacity of their organisation in the age of the Internet.
That is quite understandable. For, as Cordel Green, the BCJ's executive director, told a forum at this newspaper last week, the regulatory authority of an agency like his was clearly defined. The demarcations between newspaper, radio, television, telephone network, and legislation/rules governing them, were obvious.
But the world of communication and information has very much been turned on its head in two decades.
"Persons can no longer rely on a traditional regulator to be the intermediary between consumers and content creators when creators are consumers and consumers are creators and the continent is divorced from the platform and devices," Mr Green said.
Indeed, in this new, topsy-turvy environment, the BCJ's chairman, Anthony Clayton, observed that that body could not police the Internet.
"No organisation anywhere has got the capacity to do that," he said. "So, it means that we have to come up with a whole new strategy, which we are developing now ... ."
What that strategy will be, at this point, is far from clear. But Professor Clayton is right on two points.
First, in the new technological dispensation, a regulation based, as he put, on a system of "command and control" is obsolete. Second, a new regulatory regime, if one is possible, has to be the outcome of wide discussion with stakeholders.
We would add two other points for Professor Clayton and his team, and the Government more broadly, to contemplate.
One is that rather than proceeding with a regulatory review of the Internet in the context of its evolving role as communication media, the BCJ should use the opportunity to explore its impact on the digital economy. Further, any analysis undertaken by the BCJ should include consideration of whether an agency such as it, one of whose key functions is to be the watchman of content, is relevant in the new digital environment. And if not, what ought to replace it.
New technologies, at lower costs, have not only opened traditional media to an array of competition, but changed the way people interact with, and consume, information. Yet, the overlap and intermingling of content providers and their consumers is not all that the Internet has wrought. It opened, too, a new world of economic activity, sometimes in ways that graft data/information, entertainment and commerce. A regulatory environment, therefore, has to be careful that it does not, even if inadvertently, stymie innovation, entrepreneurship and the potential for economic growth.
As a conduit for information, the Internet does bring new challenges for societies. But, in their time, the printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, radio and television were also seen as disruptive. Societies adjusted, and then mostly outgrew the regulations. Those that didn't atrophied, or went into long-term decline.
The Internet should be similarly approached. Existing and new legislation can handle defamation, cyber-bullying, hate speech and the activities of terrorists. Filtering software, appropriately employed, will help.
Ultimately, the most effective regulator of the Internet, as the BCJ bosses implied, will be an informed citizenry working in concert with the industry and a government, whose major role should more be managing spectrum and bandwidth than policing thought.