Chinese takedown, all notice at IGF

The problem with linking inter-governmental organizations and Internet governance were on display today, the very first day of the Egypt Internet Governance Forum. The Open Network Initiative (ONI) planned a reception to launch its new edited collection book, Access Controlled. Outside the room a banner with the book cover graphics and your standard promotional blurb was on display. The blurb mentioned “the great Chinese firewall.” Apparently a representative of the Chinese government complained and someone from the UN or the government of Egypt brought in security and (after about 15 minutes of bizarre discussions) insisted that the banner be taken away. The intervention was typically self-defeating and stupid one; the process of negotiating over the banner attracted a great deal of attention and dozens of attendees took pictures of the banner. Word spread instantly on Twitter and blogs. The book will be helped by this. Moreover, the reception was allowed to go on, and a video made by people in ONI Asia was displayed with graphic demonstrations of censorship activity in Singapore and elsewhere. So what was the point of the intervention? The point, I think was just to make a point – China showed that they could retaliate against their critics in the UN environment and use the apparatus of UN rules to do so. The global governance implications should be obvious.

Ron Deibert, editor of the book, said that if we can't talk about these things here, what is the point of the IGF?

4 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Milton et al.,
    I continue to be wonder at how free-speech advocates feel no dissonance and see no irony at jetting off to resorts in repressive dictatorial regimes, inviting known jailers of journalists to speak, and then only when security forces actually penetrate the sanctum of their plush tourist hotels actually say anything about it.
    The echo-chamber of shock and dismay at a poster being taken down now reverberating online has no outrage to spare for:
    – WSIS Tunis inviting Robert Mugabe to speak
    – ICANN 34 being held in Egypt, where bloggers and journalists are routinely jailed.
    – IGF09 being held in Sharm-al-Sheik, a playground in Egypt for the ultra-rich, where nearby children go to “school” to make carpets and other tourist trinkets for attendees.
    -IGF09 inviting Minister Kamel to speak and listening without apparent discomfort as he talks about “grassroots” involvement at ICANN.
    While I support ONI and anti-censorship projects, it's hard to take the outrage about a poster seriously when there is zero commentary about press conditions in Egypt, and free-speech advocates mingle politely at cocktail hours with the government functionaries who are the actual agents of repression.
    Antony

  2. Anonymous

    A followup note. An embarrassed but unrepentent IGF Secretariat now claims that the whole incident was caused by the fact that the ONI reception had a banner outside in the hall advertising a commercial product and that that is what is against their rules. Problem is, the banner was moved inside, and security still removed it; furthermore, during the takedown process, the reference to China was mentioned – not the banner policy.

  3. Anonymous

    Free speech advocates don't pick the site of the Forum. Although they did protest vehemently when Tunisia was selected for the WSIS Summit, and this year tried mightily to make human rights the theme of the IGF Summit. In the UN system, host governments hold a lot of sway, which is why the entire schedule was disrupted and intensive security arrangements suddenly imposed so that the Egyptian first lady could address the Forum. Many of us stayed away that day.
    Also, if you read the tweets and other postings by many of the people at the Forum you will learn that there is a robust dialogue about press conditions in Egypt, repression of Egyptian bloggers, etc. See rmack on Twitter.

  4. Anonymous

    Fair enough – I actually follow R. Mack on Twitter, and didn't see anything from her addressing conditions for journalists/bloggers in Egypt, but I'll take it that she did.