Brussels, November 27th, 2017 (SIGNIS) Civil society, digital media educators and those working in media development need to join the debate on internet governance if they are going to influence how the internet can contribute to the common good. This was the strong theme running through the 17th Forum on Media and Development (Fome) held in Berlin from the 16th-17th November.

Internet governance refers to all the ways in which the internet is regulated, self-regulated or unregulated and covers everything from basic technical standards to issues like privacy, data protection, hate speech, fake news and cybersecurity. As governments, lobby groups and the global technological giants themselves, (Facebook, Amazon, Google) grapple with these issues, the public needs to be better educated and more aware of how values like freedom of information, privacy and access to knowledge are affected by business decisions and computer algorithms.

The Catholic Media Council (CAMECO) organized a session on media literacy in which Leo Van Audenhove from the Free University Brussels, spoke of the balance needed between regulation and media literacy and the shift from a protectionist approach to media literacy to one in which people are empowered. Chido Onumah, from the UNESCO backed African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, highlighted the crucial importance for media literacy in promoting equitable access to information and knowledge in a networked world.

Jim McDonnell from SIGNIS pointed out that a former president of Facebook has admitted that its business model is designed to be addictive, to keep users interacting with the platform. This is an ethical as well as practical issue. Self regulation (both among users and among digital companies) required adherence to common principles and a basic ethical consensus.

Mark Nelson of CIMA (Center for International Media Assistance) underlined that net neutrality (providers treating all data the same) was fundamental for media development in poorer countries. And there was much discussion as to whether the new German Network Enforcement Law against hate speech was in danger of threatening free speech.

The audio and video records of the Symposium are available at the Fome website