An initiative report is a way for Parliament to express its opinion to those actually drafting legislation. It has been described as “legally non-binding”, but it is a little more than that – when legislation is drafted, it falls back on the opinions expressed by Parliament. Therefore, it is closer to a request for drafting of legislation on the matter, which would later come to a (binding) vote.
So, “stop a pebble before you have to stop a landslide”.
Like all other reports, this one has a single Member of European Parliament who is responsible for it, but up until yesterday, it was a done deal. It would just pass without notice. This morning, a lot of confusion was caused as hundreds and hundreds of people mailed (as per yesterday’s article) to all of Parliament. The issue went from a done deal to open for discussion. This was a huge win in itself, and we should all pat ourselves on the back for that.
What happened next is just dishonorable. The European Parliament’s IT group started classifying mail from its constituents as spam, on the server side, so the Members of European Parliament never saw the protests. Apparently, this happened following requests from individual MEPs. The Pirate Party office in Brussels was practically screaming in French-language emails to explain the dishonor in this behavior, and MEP Christian Engström has more details.
Also, hundreds of protest mails kept pouring in that protested agricultural subsidies, so it was just the protests against the ban on online pornography that was targeted for spam filtering.
(UPDATE on this topic: technical tests showed that it was the words “gender stereotypes” that caused a mail to be silently dropped. On International Women’s Day. You couldn’t make it up if they gave you a million. Therefore, the mail template below deliberately misspells “gender stereotypes”.)
The second thing that happened was that a MEP that acted as responsible for the ban on online pornography removed the explanation of that from the report. Removed the explanation, but not the effect. The new report, as written, still extends a previous ban on pornography in advertising into new forms of media, specifically the internet, and still calls for ISP to police that ban. It just carefully hides the fact that it does so:
17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising,Even with those words taken out, this is still a reference to this report, which still has this wording describing a legislative carpet ban on pornography in “the media”:
which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the mediaand on the advertising of sex tourism;
5. Calls for statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media and in advertising and for a ban on advertising for pornographic products and sex tourismSo striking out those words in point 17 of the new report has no other effect than deliberately obscuring the purpose of the new report, following loud objections over it. The key words “the media” in the old report are still redefined in point 14 in the new report to include the Internet, and Internet Service Providers are still called upon to unaccountably police the net:
14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhereThis can feel a bit like wrapping your head against a gentle slice of sweet soft lime, then banging it hard against a brick wall.
When I set up the mail alias yesterday to make it easier to mail the European Parliament, that was my goal – I wanted to lower the wall between elected and electorate. The elected swiftly responded by erecting new walls to not have to bother with their constituents, and that has me seriously annoyed. So instead of using my remailer at email@example.com, I will supply you with all the addresses so that you can mail them all individually, rather than going through my server.
Therefore, I include the full list of addresses below. It looks quite large. That’s because it is.
The mail that has the best effect to Parliament is always one where you write exactly what you think and feel about an issue. One such mail is worth a hundred copied-and-pasted letters. So while I provide a sample mail below, I would really encourage you to write to the European Parliament from your heart instead. Don’t worry about getting the tone or the formalities right – these people work for you. You pay their salary. It is their job to listen to your concerns.
So send a mail right now:
Mail something like this to the European Parliament right now and tell them exactly how you feel about this display of disrespect and unprofessionalism.
In the process, it could have wide-ranging implications for freedom of expression in the 27 member state bloc.
Titled "Eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU", the report, on the face of it, would allow the EU to help secure the rights for those across the gender spectrum, particularly women, who are objectified, and those in regions where gender roles are "shaped and imposed" by social influences, such as in the media and education.
While the report states that there is an "increasingly noticeable tendency ... to show provocatively dressed women in sexual poses", it also notes that pornography is becoming mainstream and is "slipping into our everyday lives as an ever more universally accepted, often idealised, cultural element".
But if adopted, the opinion formed by the lawmakers would seemingly go against the grain of Europe's fundamental human rights, and could lead to the infringement of certain civil liberties in the 500 million-strong population.
Christian Engström, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Pirate Party, said on his blog that the "devil is in the detail". He warned that the wording in an older resolution from 1997 could lead to "statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media".
Dutch MEP for the Socialist Party Kartika Tamara Liotard tabled the report in the European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) late last year.
In one section of the new report, Liotard calls on the European Union to enforce a blanket ban on pornography in the media of the 27 member states, which could also include online pornography.
The report says (emphasis added):
17. Calls on the EU and its member states to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism.The scope of "the media" has for years been ill defined and vague at best, but the report specifically includes internet-related activities. And because the Bill encompasses "any media", the belief by Engström is that this will also include the web, social networks, emails, and even the photos that European citizens upload.
As Engström noted, "To a certain extent, the exact meaning on this proposed ban on pornography is unclear, since neither the 1997 resolution nor the text we will be voting on next week contains any definition of what is meant by 'in the media'."
The report goes on:
14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhereThe wording suggests that while internet service providers (ISPs) may not be forced to comply with the principles of the report, it could give these companies "policing rights" over their customers, similar to the "six-strike" rule in the US relating to online piracy.
Point 14 also suggests that any kind of sexual content on the web, such as on open platforms like Twitter, could eventually be ruled out. Legislation at best can be vague, and does not always specify exactly what the Bill intends to do.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the US, for instance, are two fine examples of how specific and yet so vague some laws can be. In the case of FISA, US authorities have a secret interpretation of the data snooping and wiretapping law, which has yet to be released to the public in an unredacted form.
Worryingly for principles governing the freedom of the press in the region, the report calls on all 27 countries in the EU to create regulatory bodies that could ultimately control and punish the media and companies that use discriminatory advertising, for instance.
19. Calls on the member states to establish independent regulation bodies with the aim of controlling the media and advertising industry and a mandate to impose effective sanctions on companies and individuals promoting the sexualisation of girlsThis initiative report, which will be voted on, is not a draft legislative measure, though it is a report to suggest that legislation should in the future be drafted and voted on.
While at this stage it is merely an opinion formed by a vote in the parliament, this is one of the first ways in which a new draft law could serve as a basis for the European Commission to propose such laws. The European Parliament would then bring it to a vote that could then see the draft ratified into law.
This article was first published on CNET.
(Credit: European Parliament/Flickr)
It comes only a day after CNET reported that other European politicians are set to vote next week on a report that could lead to a pan-European EU ban on all forms of pornography in the region.
On his Web site, Engström said that it was "absolutely excellent" that citizens were actively engaging in the democratic process, and that he had received some 350 emails to his office before 12 midday today.
After this, he said, "these mails suddenly stopped arriving," he said. He claimed, quite frankly, that: "The IT department of the European Parliament is blocking the delivery of the e-mails on this issue, after some members of the parliament complained about getting e-mails from citizens."
He described the block as an "absolute disgrace" and that the European upper house views input from its citizens "as spam." He noted that he will be writing a letter to the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, about this "totally undemocratic practice."
The massive influx of e-mails stemmed from a report written by Dutch MEP for the Socialist Party, Kartika Tamara Liotard, who called on the European Union to enforce a blanket ban on pornography in the media of the 27 member states, including online.
While this initiative report is not a draft legislative measure, it suggests an opinion by the wider European Parliament that could lead to legislation in the future. The vote is scheduled for this coming Tuesday.
This is not the first time the Parliament has been blamed for blocking e-mails from its citizens, however. During the widespread anger over a new transatlantic treaty -- the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) -- e-mails were also blocked by the European Parliament after Brussels-based politicians complained.
The treaty that on one hand would counter the illegal counterfeit goods trade across borders but on the other would have made it make it far easier for Internet providers to monitor consumers. ACTA would have also allowed for local authorities to impose new criminal sanctions on those who flout copyright and patent laws.
ACTA eventually crumbled in the European Parliament, sending the global agreement into turmoil.