Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The meeting is organized according to good Latin American standards: all important guests are seated in a front row and they exceed the length of the panel table, so that some are sitting balancing at the edge of the stage, without a re-assuring desk in front of them. All get to speak, so you already know it is going to be a lengthy affair. Eight keynote speeches to start...

Written by Free Press Unlimited director Leon Willems in Brazil​​​​​​​

But first of all... let's sing!
But first the national anthem is played to kick the audience into gear. Judging from the mass of singers in the audience, this is something meaningful here. The sign-translator for the deaf reaches full ecstasy, with curly movements of her hands, she translate-sings the anthem leading the crowd. With the relatively militaristic Brazilian anthem there are several notes that ignites her into full gear. The whole event is live on television. ANDI the Latin American Child Rights Network is celebrating its 20th birthday. I cant see such a thing happening in the Netherlands.

The minister wishes us a good debate to sort it all out
As a kick off for the conference on regulatory frameworks for children and media, the amount of officials is breathtaking. I count two ministers and several of the highest officials of ministries. The justice ministry depicts the rule of law as the victory of mankind over barbarism. The minister then follows suit by portraying the desire of states to regulate what children are allowed to see on television. But then he takes a fast corner and mentions those who advocate for freedom of expression also have an opinion and he wishes us a good debate to sort it all out.

Children and minorities have no voice in the media of Latin America
Immediately the heart of the matter is on the table. There is lack of freedom of expression in Latin America and the regulatory framework does not empower children or minorities to have a voice in the media. The representative of the corporate social responsibility programme of Petrobras, makes reference to the company programme which will turn all the 120.000 employees of Petrobras into champions of freedom of expression before 2015 through that same programme. Yeah right….

The minister of Human Rights speaks out
The minister for Human rights (Yes they have that here, this is Brazil, you don’t have that in your country have you?) speaks about breaking the culture of silence when it comes to protecting children’s rights. Because that is what it is about in Brasilia these two days. How can Children’s rights be better protected in the media? Currently there is zero regulation, not even a voluntary agreement not to broadcast porn or violent movies at children’s timeslots.

Corporate businesses only care about the freedom to trade
The debate about freedom has the same dichotomy around the world. Many states and governments support the concept of liberty but they are worried that citizens might do different things with that freedom than they want. Corporate businesses usually don’t care too much about freedoms in itself as long as they have the freedom to trade and conduct their businesses without interference. And citizen groups hammer on the rights of citizens.

UN uses policy prose that no ordinary citizen can follow
Frank La Rue, a genuine human rights activist from Guatemala, who is currently the United Nations special envoy for freedom of expression, puts the children first rather than the concerns of governments and the media industry. What a strange institution the UN is. It shows itself by times again as a Brezhnevian bureaucratic beehive, where thousands of overpaid professionals practice the kind of policy prose that no ordinary citizen can follow, and then this short sighted autistic system also produces this man, with the clarity of mind that is hard to find in the world of diplomats and leaders. Frank La Rue reiterates his provocative report to the United Nations of 2011: states simply cannot resist the temptation to regulate, control and diminish freedoms such as the free and open internet. He denounced these attempts as counterproductive to the free flow of information, business opportunities and the development of mankind proper. Here he advocates that the free and open internet is an essential precondition for youth to attain their rights and especially freedom of expression.

The internet to some people is like a Pandora's box
Now that is sensitive around the world as states, corporations and parents want to control what children can and cannot do. The internet is like a Pandora’s box to those people. La Rue patiently explains that criminal behaviour such as child pornography on the web is a violation of criminal law and should be persecuted. And that it is the job of the state to protect children from criminal behaviour. And that they should put resources in prosecuting those criminal perpetrators. If it is not the state’s responsibility to clamp down on cutlery over dinner, then why close down internet access to children? Many of the educators around the room find it difficult to grapple with this issue.

Children want to use the internet to understand the world around them
So what do we want to achieve at this conference? The question buzzes around at the coffee break but no one dares to ask. It is hard for me to put this on the table. This seems to be a typical Brazilian situation. So someone does ask, where are the children? That would have been standard practice in the Netherlands, to have some form of delegates from the target group, children and youth. But here they are remarkably absent. The average age is above 40. Some researchers actually do voice the opinions of children and they are all leading in the same direction: children want to use the internet to learn, understand the world around them and raise their own voice about things. It seems the only right thing to show some clips of our Kids News Network on Friday and hear the voices of children. By that time the policy lingo will hopefully have evaporated.

Many people carry good intentions in their hearts
And now lets head for the afternoon drinks. That is where much of the real work is done. Talk, meet, discuss, exchange and sharpen ideas. That is why in the end, these conferences can be useful. You meet a lot of people and many of them carry good intentions in their hearts and want to achieve something.

Happy Birthday ANDI!