Bettina Jodda (Twister) on Thu, 18 Jul 2002 23:01:23 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[rohrpost] The Internet on Trial

Aus dem Wallstreet Journal

Zusammenfassung oder Uebersetzung (puh) on request...


The Internet on Trial

American journalist Andrew Meldrum, who is facing deportation from
Zimbabwe after 20 years faithfully reporting from that country, is the
first to be prosecuted and punished for writing a news story placed on the
Internet. Robert Mugabe's vindictive precedent puts journalists, editors
and publishers throughout the world at risk, because it pioneers a legal
path whereby repressive regimes may inflict their draconian media rules on
the rest of the world.

Mr. Meldrum's paper, the Guardian, is not distributed in Zimbabwe, but his
report, which discomfited the government, went "online" in London and was
in due course downloaded in Harare by secret policemen who spend their
days surfing the net for criticisms of Mr. Mugabe. He was arrested for the
crime of "publishing falsehoods," which carries a two-year prison
sentence, on the theory that any local court can take jurisdiction over
all the people involved in an Internet publication, wherever they or their
Web-servers are located.

Unfortunately, the Mugabe government is not alone in its attempt to
subject material published on the Internet to local laws. Courts
throughout the world are grappling with the legal consequences of
publication on the ubiquitous and directionless World Wide Web. A Paris
court ordered Yahoo! to disband its Web site offering Nazi memorabilia for
sale or else to block access from France. But electronic "firewalls" are
ineffective and a U.S. court has declared that the French order cannot
override Yahoo!'s First Amendment rights. Meanwhile, Australia's High
Court is deciding whether it has jurisdiction in a civil defamation case
over a Wall Street Journal Web site in New Jersey.

But Mr. Mugabe's is the first regime to assert local criminal jurisdiction
over foreign Web postings, and countries with more barbaric laws against
seditious writing (Iran and Libya for example) would doubtless welcome a
precedent. They obtained it from the magistrate's ruling on Monday that
Zimbabwe was entitled to prosecute anyone who published criticism of the
country on the Web, because of "potentially harmful effects on investment
and tourism, or in encouraging civil unrest."

This was an avowedly political decision -- a desperate sop to Mr. Mugabe's
thugs by a magistrate who went on, with some courage, to acquit Mr.
Meldrum because he had not been told the truth about the story by
officials. The judge failed to determine the crucial legal questions of
where the Web-site story was published: in London, where it was uploaded
onto the Guardian Online Web server, or in Harare, where Sgt. Blessmore
Chishaka downloaded it two months ago at the Central Intelligence
Organization. If the crime of false publication was committed in London,
the Zimbabwe court would have no jurisdiction. But if committed on a
single downloading in Zimbabwe, the court would have jurisdiction to
punish not only Mr. Meldrum but the editor of the Guardian and anyone else
responsible for the uploading who may come within its clutches.

The prosecution's case was that the World Wide Web was the same for legal
purposes as television broadcasting -- and that one downloading was enough
to convict. On this basis, of course, each of the world's 191 countries
could claim jurisdiction over every journalist and editor whose work was
uploaded in America or Europe. But the defense called expert evidence to
explain the difference between "push" technologies like broadcasting,
which transmit or direct information to particular areas, and the "pull"
technology of the Internet, by which information reaches Zimbabwe only as
a result of an electronic message sent from that jurisdiction to pull the
copy off the Web server in London.

The court decision in the Meldrum case did not decide between these
arguments, which will continue in Zimbabwe (where 13 more journalists,
several of them foreign correspondents, await trial under Mr. Mugabe's
harsh press laws) and in common law countries around the globe, often with
U.S. journalists and publishers as defendants. It will cause a substantial
diminution of free speech world-wide if repressive governments can haul
foreign authors into the docks of their kangaroo courts or if the growing
-- and increasingly sleazy -- class of "international public figures" can
use Web publication as an excuse to forum-shop in countries with
plaintiff-friendly libel laws.

Legislatures and judges must become more aware of the policy reasons for
protecting the World Wide Web from such exercises of parochial law power.
Otherwise, Andrew Meldrum's persecution will become a pernicious precedent
for shrinking the amount of information available on the Web.

Mr. Robertson, a London barrister, is the author of "Crimes Against
Humanity" (New Press, 2000). He attended the Meldrum trial for the
Guardian and is counsel to Dow Jones, publisher of this newspaper, in the
Australian case.

*** FAIR USE NOTICE. This message contains copyrighted material whose use
has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The
'johnmacsgroup' Internet discussion group  is is making it available
without profit to group members who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information in their efforts to advance the
understanding of literary, educational, political, and economic issues,
for non-profit research and educational purposes only. I believe that this
constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in
section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted
material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must
obtain permission from the copyright owner.

For more information go to:

   "When you come to the fork in the road, take it" - L.P. Berra
   "Always make new mistakes" -- Esther Dyson
   "Be precise in the use of words and expect precision from others" -
    Pierre Abelard
                          John F. McMullen ICQ: 4368412 Fax: (603) 288-8440

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor ---------------------~-->
Will You Find True Love?
Will You Meet the One?
Free Love Reading by phone!

To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to


rohrpost - deutschsprachige Liste zur Kultur digitaler Medien und Netze