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e-Democracy update - 18/1/06

18 January, 2006
By Daniel Macpherson

Podcasting Politicans Prove Popular

Various politicians in Australia and abroad have podcasted in the last year, contributing to the Oxford English Dictionary's decision to make "podcast" the 2005's word of the year.

Podcasts are audio files that can be downloaded onto an iPod or other MP3 player and have become increasingly popular since Apple recently made the technology available on its iTunes Web site.

In the last year, various Australian party leaders have tried podcasting.

Greens leader Bob Brown has a regular "BobCast" where he broadcasts opinions on various topics using his mobile phone.

"I am not techno-savvy, but I enjoy stopping every now and then to talk about the issue of the moment as we see it," Senator Brown says.

So far, Senator Brown has used podcasting to discuss Australia's childcare system, David Hicks and Industrial Relations reforms.

Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett has also tried podcasting on Cameron Reilly's website G'Day World.

Various US politicians including US Senators Barack Obama (Dem), Larry Craig (Rep) and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are also podcasting political messages.

Senator Obama's podcast site was once rated by iTunes as one of the top 20 on the Internet.

Even President Bush's weekly radio addresses are now being released as podcasts.

For more podcasts, visit Podcast.net.

New UN forum first step to global net regulation

The United Nations has created a new forum for discussion of Internet governance, including domain names and country codes such as Australia's .au.

The UN describes the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as the first step in international regulation of the Internet domain names.

Currently, the non-profit and US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has official decision-making power over top-level domain names.

In November, the UN held the World Summit on the Internet Society, which led to many international representitives asking for greater non-US control over the Internet.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan proposed the IGF to apease summit representitives and "bring all stakeholders together to share information and best practices and discuss difficult issues".

"One mistaken notion is that the United Nations wants to 'take over', police or otherwise control the internet. Nothing could be farther from the truth," said Mr Annan in the lead-up to the summit.

The Internet Governance Forum can be seen here.

Yahoo loses "free speech" court case

Search engine Yahoo has lost a court decision that overturned "free speech" in favour of French censorship law.

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision states that Yahoo violated French law for displaying and selling Nazi Memorabilia on its website.

A French court ruled in 2000 that Yahoo had to make it impossible for residents of France to participate in Nazi memorabilia auctions and to access content of that nature. If it failed to comply, Yahoo would have to pay a fine.

Yahoo might now be liable for a $15 million fine.

Yahoo later appealed the 2000 decision in US Courts and argued that the fine violated the right to freedom of speech.

"We are pleased that the court affirmed that US courts have jurisdiction when foreign plaintiffs try to impose censorship on US websites," a Yahoo spokesperson said in response to the decision.

However, some have accused Yahoo of double standards. Critic John Stith says that Yahoo's decision to fight the French regulation in the name of free speech contradicts previous decisions to comply with Chinese censorship laws.

"While they seek help from the U.S. government to keep from having to follow France's laws, they are willing to out journalist-critics of the Chinese government in order to keep from irritating the Chinese government, stating they have to follow Chinese laws to do business in China," Mr Stith says.

"Why are they applying different standards to two different countries?"

During September 2005, press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders reported that Yahoo provided the Chinese government with details of an e-mail account belonging dissident Shi Tao.

Shi Tao was later jailed.

In related news, Yahoo's share price dropped in the last few days after it reported earnings below expectations.

New e-petition to free Iranian political prisoners

An online petition has been launched to campaign for freedom for political prisoners in an Iranian prison.

The petition asks for international organisations including Amnesty International, Red Cross, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Union Human Rights Committee to push for release of the prisoners and send delegations to inspect Karaj's Rejai-Shahr prison.

The petions states:

"On the eighth week of the hunger strike of the political prisoners in Rejayi Shahr Prison, the government of Islamic Republic of Iran, has relocated the prisoners to facilities with harsher conditions, instead of assessing their demands.

"Many of them have lost function in parts of their bodies as a result of the medieval tortures. The prisoners are constantly harassed, their cells raided and their belongings are looted regularly.

"The Iranian government accepts no responsibility to provide food, medical care and even security for the lives of the political prisoners.

"The Iranian government has transferred the political prisoners to the cells of prisoners with heavy crimes and to confinements, where every month at least one person is reported dead in fights."

View the petition here.

Canadian study shows young voters using new technologies

A new study shows young Canadians might might not identify with today's politics but are embracing new technology to express their political views.

Research organisation D-Code recently released their Youth Voter DNA Report, which surveyed 1,000 Canadians aged 15 to 34.

According to the report, 72 per cent of participants said they were politically engaged when forwarding emails or letters about a cause, 68 per cent claimed to have signed an online petition and 23 per cent claimed to have posted a political message on a message board or blog.

D-Code founder Robert Barnard says this shows Canadian youth is more politically motivated than previously thought.

"A common myth around this group is they're disengaged," Mr Barnard says.
 
"But we asked youth flat out what they think and this shows they're more engaged than they're given credit for."

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