Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Devon Hunter | Beware of BCJ as Internet watchdog

Published:Wednesday | July 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM

"Winter is coming!" No, it's not the white walkers or the treachery and intrigue of the new season of Game of Thrones, but rather the coming winter, based on the dead ideas of regulation which the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ) seems committed to subscribe.

Across two articles in The Sunday Gleaner of July 9, 2017, Cordell Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission, has acknowledged two major facts:

That, increasingly, millennials are escaping the BCJ's orbit of control, which is broadcast radio, free-to-air television and subscriber television, by going to the Internet for content.

In spite of his own comments about the possible ills of this BCJ-unregulated space, such as parents neglecting their children in favour of virtual games, etc., he conceded that "there is no empirical data to indicate the extent of these issues locally".

However, Mr Green and the BCJ are committed to embarking "on a period of consultation with the Government, Opposition and other stakeholders as it reshapes its regulatory role".

This may simply be a means of maintaining the relevance of the BCJ in a changing world. However, note the context and the framing surrounding their need to have this evolved regulatory access. It is to protect the children, protect you, protect me, protect the families, protect the country. There is an old wisdom that says beware of those who seek to protect you from yourself, as their intention may be to control you.

 

THREATS TO A FREE INTERNET

 

Having said that, I believe in the principle of regulation, and I also believe that the BCJ should evolve in its role. However, it is my opinion that the role and ethos that currently drive the organisation and its ideas about regulation are potential threats to the value of a free Internet.

The BCJ seems to subscribe to a very narrow view of regulation: as a limiting and controlling tool. With credit to Mr Green, he has now acknowledged that with "online, you cannot take a command-and-control approach", yet he still has a desire to regulate, to protect, rather than empower and advance opportunities and access.

A more modern and meaningful perspective on regulation was put forward by the 1997 Better Regulation Task Force out of the United Kingdom. A key predicate that they referenced was balancing "the unintended consequences [of taking a policy position] versus the desired outcomes". Against that backdrop, one could ask the following questions:

- What exactly would be the desired outcome of the BCJ in its quest to regulate the Internet?

- What meaningful argument does the BCJ have beyond saying kids have accesses to porn on the Internet, when, in fact, porn is still available in books and on TV?

The Better Regulation Task Force also presented issues such as proportionality, accountability, consistency, transparency, and targeting as important elements of regulation. Interestingly, the digital industry as a whole is already far advanced in dealing with these issues, without the intervention of the BCJ.

The digital industry has been marching along in self-regulation to protect children and the vulnerable from inappropriate and dangerous content. Such self-regulation driven by the public is the only meaningful regulator that an ecosystem like the Internet needs as it seeks to cater to the interest and morality of some, while not infringing on the rights and interests of others.

 

FEAR OF OTHERS

 

According to a recent polling on debate.org, 73 per cent of participants said the government should not be allowed to regulate the Internet, while 27 per cent were in favour. The minority view cited as a consistent theme, the actions of 'others' as their reason to have government regulate the Internet. They spoke of how 'others' might use and misuse the Internet, which is in essence the same argument the BCJ is floating.

But shouldn't our belief in freedom, manifested in thought and interest, be something we protect zealously, for we all are the 'other' to someone?

This growing trend to desire regulating the Internet is not a matter of morality; it is a matter of power and economics. If the last freest space is controlled by the powerful, history has taught us that those with less power will be suppressed and denied access.

On the economic front, there is never a conversation from these regulation-hungry groups to consider the innovation and economic possibilities that a free Internet affords.

On the rare occasion when I find myself quoting Ronald Regan, it is cause for concern, and this occasion is no different, as he is credited for saying 'the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' To this help, I encourage us to say 'no thanks!'

- Devon Hunter is a communications specialist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and dev_hunter@hotmail.com.