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Media and Information Society


The power of the screen
Enhancing democracy and freedoms while fulfilling responsibilities in the online environment

Non-paper II on the ministerial conference by Thomas Schneider, Swiss Federal Office of Communications, Biel-Bienne, 30 May 2012

Screens have become an indispensable tool in our daily economic, social, cultural and political life.
Screens enable us to communicate, to have access to information and content and to communicate and to manage other devices like cars or coffee machines.
The rapid development of what a screen (and the machine behind it) can be used for has allowed – and will continue to allow – for unprecedented opportunities to interact, access information and content and manage processes in a rapid, ubiqituous and participatory manner.

A few decades ago, there have been screens as well, but they have been designed for one purpose only: a TV screen was made for watching television, a screen of an industrial machine was made for controlling this machine, a screen on an alarm clock was meant to show time,a screen of a calculator was meant to show the result of a calculation, a screen on a phone was meant to show the number of the person calling – nothing else.

The development and convergence of screens and their connection to the internet has created an unpredecented growth of opportunities of connecting and giving access to content and information, but also machines and human beings. It has allowed for combining existing and creating new services some of which have had a significant impact on the way we communicate and live our daily lives. This has brought about new opportunities, new ways for citizens to particpate in political processes and to exercise freedoms in a democratic society.
The development of screens has offered opportunities for businesses to create new services and generate new incomes. The rapid spread of the internet and the success of some services have given single companies great power over users but also increased the pressure for corporate social behaviour.
The development of screens has challenged the traditional media system through the creation of new media and fundamental changes in the economic fundament as well as in people’s use of and trust in media in general.

The power of the screen(s) also carries risks and threats to citizens and challenges governments. In their obligation to guarantee freedoms and human rights of their citizens, governments have to rethink the appropriateness of the current regulation in the media and other fields. All actors – governments, businesses, and the citizens themselves – must be aware of their responsibility for the way they behave in the virtual world of the screens and for the effect their behaviour has on others. With a view to maximize the freedoms and rights for individual citizens but also for fostering innovation and economic development, these responsibilities have to be identified more clearly and traditional regulatory frameworks have to be reassessed.

The development of the screen – the amount and kind of things that people can do with, behind, in front of and through a screen – will continue to evolve and have impact on people’s daily lives. Therefore the power of the screen(s) will increase. To have access to a screen means to be informed and to be able to communicate. To be able to have an influence on what other people see on “their” screen means even more power.

The upcoming Council of Europe ministerial conference will deal with some of the most relevant aspects of the notion of power of the screen and will discuss how people’s rights and fundamental freedoms can be enhanced through the use of screens (ICTs and the internet) and how risks and threats can be minimized.

Under this umbrella, the CoE ministerial conference could focus on the following issues:

What is it about:

Key issues:

Is the internet just a means for the exercise of existing rights and freedoms or is the time ripe for the Council of Europe to consider the need for an additional protocol to the ECHR on the right to have access to the internet?

In this regard, in addition to the issues and questions mentioned above, concrete questions and topics to be explored at a ministerial conference could include: