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Bertelsmann Pleads for Self-Regulation Online

In a paper presented at the Internet Content Summit this week, the Bertelsmann Foundation called for greater user control over content regulation.

Bertelsmann Foundation recommended user implementation of rating, filtering and security technology for content regulation, and that international hotlines and "credible self-regulatory institutions" be created to resolve user complaints.

The foundation stated its belief that freedom of speech and child protection online go hand in hand. What is needed, it said, is "a new culture of responsibility."

At the meeting, organised by the Bertelsmann Foundation in cooperation with INCORE (Internet Content Rating for Europe), 300 policy makers and industry figures -- including former White House special advisor Ira Magaziner -- met to discuss how to deal with harmful content online.

"The Internet is the medium of free expression and has to remain just that, even if safeguards for youth protection and against illegal content need to be provided," said Mark Wvssner, chairman of the Bertelsmann Foundation.

"Faced with a global and decentralised medium providing a veritable flood of content, classical instruments of national media regulation must fail," he emphasised.

A similar message came from the well-known industry figure and author Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings.

"In the end, the job of regulation of content should be up to individuals -- to adults who can choose what to see and hear for themselves (using filtering tools if they wish), to parents controlling their children, and to corporate executives with consciences," she said.

The Bertelsmann Foundation presented a series of recommendations to government and industry, based on reports prepared at Yale, Oxford, St. Gallen and Wurzburg universities. They call for cooperation across borders and across professions, while stating that ISP liability for illegal content should be limited.

"It is in the best interest of industry to commit to self-regulatory mechanisms," said Mark Wvssner. "They reduce the likelihood of overinclusive and rather inflexible government regulation; they increase user confidence and secure competitiveness."

The Bertelsmann Foundation says it will work with schools over the coming year in a series of workshops to help students become discerning users of online content.

The Internet Content Summit took place in Munich, Germany, September 10-11.