The town of Pezinok outside of Slovakia's capital of Bratislava hosted the forum on the Freedom of Journalism in the Context of Human Rights, New Technologies and International Information Security on December 3-5, 2018. The forum brought together more than 70 experts and media representatives from 12 countries. Russia's International Affairs journal, Russia's Union of journalists, a number of foreign media and European artistic associations. The Moscow State University that sent a large group of experts on modern communication including psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers was one of the key forum's organizers.
In his greeting to the forum's participants Russia's Ambassador to Slovakia Alexei Fedotov noted that Bratislava is maybe far better than other cities suitable for hosting such international meeting due to the high level of mutual understanding between Russia and Slovakia and similarity of Slavic historical traditions.
Paying respect to Slovakia's hospitality it is noteworthy that some other circumstance bred vast interest of international organization in the forum. This is primarily the concern of the international community over the situation in the sphere of information. The forum's participants noted that the development of modern media technologies did not make the world safer. The threat of using media for settling international disputes and conflicts by force has come to the forefront, while journalist has still remained a profession hazardous to life:
- In 2018, 80 reporters were killed all over the world. The vast majority of these crimes (89% in 2006-2016) have remained unsolved, Director of UN Information Service in Vienna Martin Nesirky said in a report.
- Media is losing its independence and becoming more dependent on state grants, Marius Lukosiunas of UNESCO said.
- There are many international conventions signed in the sphere of countering disinformation, but they all does not work, Senior Adviser of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Andrei Richter acknowledged.
What can be considered a false or fake piece of news? How to counter such Information? Should the states be responsible within their national borders for governing the global cyber space that has no borders?
The debates was growing more heated with every question posed by the moderators –
S. Goel of the United States and Armen Oganesyan and Vladimir Solovyov, both of Russia – and the chart of proposed solutions was growing that big that there was sometime an impression that the forum's participants are trying to seize the unseizable. Opinions varied even on basic notions. Here are just some elements of the debates.
"The League of Nations was the first to pay attention to fake news. In December 1936, it adopted the convention on radio broadcasting in the cause of peace" (Richter, the OSCE). "Cannot be the story of Giordano Bruno be considered a fake? We were told that he suffered for his beliefs and for advocating Copernicus's works, although he was burnt to death for heresy as a monk" (Anna Belikova, Russia). "In fact, fake news has economic nature and initially was linked to selling counterfeit goods" (Vladimir Bachishin, Slovakia).
There were six session during three intense days of the forum, and 40 reports were presented there. The most predictable was the topic of information stuffing. As expected, reports on chemical weapons carried the garland. The fake "Powell's tube" that had led to Iraqi invasion of the United States, the chemical attacks in Syria's Douma staged by the White Helmets, and the Skripals poisoning. In these cases fake news turned out to be something secondary, they projected a false reality, some kind on "post-truth" created by film directors and actors. Less famous evidence of photographer Sergei Ponomaryov, Russia's only winner of the Pulitzer Prize for reports about Syrian refugees, can be added to this list.
In 2013, Ponomaryov worked in Damascus. According to media reports, Assad troops allegedly carried out a chemical attack near the city killing 1,500 people. The New York Times published a map of the scene. The reporter started to search for signs of the attack. Given such a large number of causalities, there should be at least 5,000 to 7,000 injured people. This means a lot of people in hospitals, on roads, in transport. Where are they? A three-day search yielded no result. There was no sign of a chemical attack. The sensation turned out to be another fake.
The forum's participants said that it is easy to understand that in the new information realty the border between the truth and a lie is eroding. How can a right of a person to reliable information be exercised?
Academic scientists joined the debates on this and other issues. Philosophers told about "the change of communicative paradigm" (Alexander Segal, Russia). International affairs experts spoke about "information sovereignty" of states (Boris Kostenko, Russia). Security experts proposed the concept of "implicit weapons" (Anatoly Streltsov, Russia). New notions were introduced, and it is quite possible that many of them were voiced for the first time at the Bratislava forum.
One should acknowledge that the world is in hybrid war amidst the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world, Director of the Moscow Office of the EastWest Institure (USA) Vladimir Ivanov said. One can continue reproaching the opposite party of using fake technologies and they will be mirrored in response, he said.
It is useless to speak about legal norms in this case, he said. Law can be used only when an agreement is reached. Unless all global players, including the United States, Russia and China, are interested in elaborating common rules of conduct in the information sphere, conflicts will continue to escalate.
Russia has repeatedly proposed the USA to sign an agreement in this sphere. To what extend is the USA ready for the development of new rules?
Many participants in the forum were skeptical about such move. The elites of the USA should first reach an agreement between themselves, otherwise the world will continue being tumultuous. However, none of the global players, including the USA, is interested in confrontation escalating to a hot stage. It is now clear that the Trump administration will ask a high price for its concessions.
What should Russia do in this situation? To work proactively and to make accent on the preventive exposure of provocations that are being prepared, as it happened for example before the staging of the Douma chemical attack in Syria. To learn a lesson of its late reaction during the conflict with Georgia (Irina Denisova, Russia). To define the scope of the state's responsibility in the cyber space (Anatoly Streltsov, Russia). To work out rules of responsible conduct in the information sphere.
The forum's title contains its counting number, the first. Indeed, the forum has just outlined its further actions, discussed the state of affairs and set the guidelines. There are no rules so far, they have yet to be worked out. There is no agreement with the main opponent, it has yet to be reached. But the first step was made, a platform for free and non-bloc discussion of acute topics by all interested parties has emerged. This means that the international media forum will certainly have more counting numbers.