What weight to give the on-line debate? Freedom of Speech - Freedom House “Freedom of the Net report” and Ukrainian elections

For the first time, Ukraine has been included in the Freedom House, Freedom of the Net report.  Ukraine was ranked as being “Free”.

And, well why wouldn’t it be?  No bloggers have been arrested, there is no political interference that is noticeable, and no Internet applications are blocked by the government.

Further, the Ukrainian forums are very vibrant regardless of their subject, and especially so with issues of politics and policy, be it at local or national level.

All jolly good and a credit to governments past and present in equal measure.  Credit also for the ever increasing coverage around the nation by whatever method it is achieved.  Free wifi exists at almost all reasonable restaurants and cafes, an example that establishment owners of similar premises in the UK could do with following.

So how does this “free” Internet status sit along side the “partly free” status of the media as deemed by Freedom House?

As they rightly point out, the Internet content in Ukraine is not subject to political interference.  I can read domestic and international news and views relating to Ukraine without hindrance - as can more and more people in Ukraine be it via computers or mobile telephones, the ever increasing coverage allowing.

With more and more public content, be it generated by professional journalists or one person with a laptop sat somewhere in Ukraine who sees something interesting and writes about it, or uploads footage of it, printed media, radio and television are losing an ever increasing part of the media/news market.

Not a situation peculiar to Ukraine it has to be said.

However, how do such things equate in the OSCE electoral observations?

Aside from the more traditional media, I follow numerous journalists, politicians of all colours and stripes, commentators, academics and think tanks on facebook, VK, Live Journal, LinkedIn, twitter and futubra to name but a few social networking sites I use to keep track of who is doing what, where, when, how and why.  Not to mention official websites and other virtual platforms.

And then there are the Ukrainian forums of which I am a member.

I have recently been watching much more television than normal, simply to monitor several national television stations relating to the amount of time those running in the forthcoming elections are getting.  An attempt to see if there has been equal access for all concerned - or there or there abouts.  So far, no major issues relating to time or exposure on the national channels I have chosen to monitor, but there is time for that to change of course.

The regional channels however are quite obviously skewed in favour on the United Opposition on Odessa TV for example, and Party Regions on Grad TV when it comes to time and exposure.  Art TV is skewed towards Party Rodina.   That said, across all the Odessa regional channels, whilst individual channels may be skewed, on the whole, the regional broadcasters seem to be there or there abouts when offsetting one against another.

So how does the “free” net freedom status offset the “partly free” status of the media when OSCE monitoring?  How is it weighted?  It must surely be considered and in this medium, certainly the United Opposition have no problem with access or making their case.  I follow numerous United Opposition MPs, the United Opposition facebook election page, official party websites etc and my email inbox is consistently receiving mail stating new content from the United Opposition.

In fact, to doff my cap where necessary, the United Opposition are far more competent with the Internet than the current ruling coalition.  Unfortunately much of the content they produce is about as inspiring as the Yatseniuk led rally I attended in Odessa only last week.  In short, not content likely to win an election or increase their voter turnout - which is rather sad and self-defeating when all is said and done.

Looking forwards, not only relating to Ukraine but other OSCE nations, as more and more potential voters dump the traditional media for the Internet, how easy is it to monitor “equal media access”?  How can you identify those responsible for a DDoS on a rival party website?  Would trolling and/or spamming become a form of “political interference” during any official electioneering period?  How easy it is to identify a troll rather than a genuine commentator who disagrees with the content?  At what point do you acknowledge that the Internet, rather than traditional media, has become the main source of electoral information/disinformation/propaganda?

Difficult issues to address on the horizon.

Anyway, one of the issues to monitor after the October elections when it comes to OSCE reports, will be the weight, if any, they attach to an Internet free of political interference given its ever increasing prominence in Ukraine.