EC set to tackle Internet porn censorship issues

The European Commission will publish a discussion document in October on the subject of Internet pornography.

In a move to gain time as pressure mounts to curb the transmission of pornographic material over the Internet, the European Commission will publish in early October a Green Paper, or discussion document, on the subject, according to a European Commission source.

Initially pushed by French concerns over lack of control over the Internet, Belgium is now providing the main pressure on the EC.

Belgian concerns were awakened following the recent discovery of the bodies of four young girls, whose murders were mourned nationally. The case led the police to unearth evidence that child-pornography images and information about paedophile services are transmitted over the Internet from Belgium.

Belgian Telecommunications Minister Elio Di Rupa will bring up the issue of Internet censorship during a meeting tomorrow of European Union telecommunications ministers, his office says. But the EC "wants to be very cautious about possible action" due both to the very serious disagreements -- even within the EC itself -- about how to censure the Internet, and to concerns that any mistake would undermine the development of new services, the EC source says.

Some EC officials take the view that censorship on the Internet should probably be left to the member states in view of the continuing disagreements, according to the source. "Laws prohibiting this type of [pornographic] network already exist; and since it is up to the national governments to apply these laws, the same situation should hold for the Internet," he says.

With a view to resolving the issue, cultural and audio-visual commissioner Marcelino Oreja is set to publish on October 9 a Green Paper or discussion document examining how best to protect young users of the new information-technology services. The paper will first examine the extent of this problem as well as current legislation and then examine how various countries inside and outside the European Union are dealing with it.

However, the document "will not indicate any commission preference", the source says.

Following the publication of the Green Paper, commissioner Oreja will hold consultations with all interested parties, a process that could take one year, the source says.

Meanwhile, in a published interview, commissioner Oreja says that one way of dealing with censorship issues might lie in the drafting of a professional code of ethics by the sector itself. This approach could bridge the different positions within the European Union regarding freedom of information, ethical concerns and definitions of pornography, he says.

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