Online defamation and its regulations at international and national level
As a vehicle for expression, the Internet serves various functions. It is simultaneously a publishing tool and a communications tool, allowing millions around the world to communicate instantaneously at the cost of a local call. It brings the ability to broadcast to an audience of millions within the reach of everyone with access to a computer and a telephone line; it serves as a huge multi-media library of information on topics ranging from human rights to deep-sea exploration and it is being used as an important educational tool, with Universities offering courses over the Internet. Governments use it to make information available and even public health services have gone on-line to provide self-help information. Increasingly, traditional media such as newspapers and radio stations are also going ‘online’, thus enriching Internet content, providing a bridge between the ‘paper-world’ and cyberspace and ensuring world-wide access to local papers. It has also developed a crucial commercial function, with more and more businesses trading over the Internet, selling everything from computers to holidays to flowers. As has been noted, the Internet is as diverse as human thought.
However, it is precisely because of its diversity of content and ease of use that the Internet has become controversial. As with any other tool, it can be used for different purposes. On the one hand, for example, it allows up-to-date news about current events to emerge from countries where other communication means are heavily censored. On the other hand, the Internet can be used to facilitate crime. In addition, because of the global nature of the Internet there are problems with regard to content. Material that is perfectly legal in the country where it is ‘uploaded’ may be illegal in the country where it is ‘downloaded’, for example because it is considered to be obscene or politically subversive. Increasingly, therefore, the case is put for stronger Internet regulation. This raises important issues with regard to the online defamation.
These Principles set out an appropriate balance between the human right to freedom of expression, guaranteed in UN and regional human rights instruments as well as nearly every national constitution, and the need to protect individual reputations, widely recognized by international human rights instruments and the law in countries around the world. The Principles are based on the premise that in a democratic society, freedom of expression must be guaranteed and may be subject only to narrowly drawn restrictions which are necessary to protect legitimate interests, including reputations. In particular, they set out standards of respect for freedom of expression to which legal provisions designed to protect reputations should, at a minimum, conform.