Europe: destroying freedom to save it

European Union government ministers met in Paris Jan. 11 to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But there is an Orwellian aspect to their reaction. A joint statement (PDF) issued by twelve EU interior ministers, including Bernard Cazeneuve of France and UK Home Secretary Theresa May, included the following text: "We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence… With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible." In other words, pressure on ISPs to shut down websites deemed objectionable by EU ministries, and rat out their producers to the Euro-cops—a notion rendered especially problematic due to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism." (To provide just a few examples, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.) The statement was signed in the presence of US Attorney General Eric Holder. (Global Guerrillas, Jan. 12; The Register, Jan. 11)

Reporters Without Borders meanwhile protests that among the participants at the Paris march were several high officials from countries that restrict freedom of information, including the foreign ministers of Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB's latest World Press Freedom Index), Russia (148), Turkey (154) and United Arab Emirates (118). Also present was President Ali Bongo of Gabon (98). "We must demonstrate our solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without forgetting all the world's other Charlies," RWB secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "It would be unacceptable if representatives of countries that silence journalists were to take advantage of the current outpouring of emotion to try to improve their international image and then continue their repressive policies when they return home. We must not let predators of press freedom spit on the graves of Charlie Hebdo.” (RSF, Jan. 11)

We are slightly chagrined that the RWB's statement failed to single out Israel (96), whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu particularly used his Paris appearance for political grandstanding. It should be noted that Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza last year included air-strikes that targeted the Palestinian radio station Sawt al-Watan. Israel also raided the Jerusalem studios of Palestine TV last year, detaining a producer and cameraman. To cite but two recent examples. Censorship by military decree is still widely practiced by Israel both sides of the Green Line, as the New York Times noted in an Aug. 4, 2014 editorial statement explaining the limitations placed on its own coverage during the Gaza assault.

It also would have been good to point out that France (39) has its own double standards on questions of free speech.