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Google challenges EU plan to regulate the internet

Andrew Murray-Watson / London Telegraph | January 30 2006

Google, the giant internet search company, is to lead industry opposition to new proposals from the European Commission to regulate online content.

The company, which last week said it would self-censor its Chinese search engine to appease the country's government, objects to the commission's proposals to extend regulations in the Television Without Frontiers directive (TWFD) to cover video content shown on the internet.

James Purnell, the minister for creative industries, has backed Google's stance.

He said: "There is no benefit to the consumer that justifies this move. This increased scope could mean significant regulation of the internet and stifle the growth of new media services. That would raise prices for consumers and deprive them of potential new services."

Existing national laws that regulate TV broadcasting - for example, the British ban on tobacco advertising and child porn - were sufficient, he added.

If the proposals became part of European law, Purnell said, "in 10 years our successors will bemoan the handicaps we gave to European industry and the restraints we put on free speech".

"For example, the proposals suggest that member states should ensure that media service providers. . . do not offer material which contains incitement to hatred on grounds of, for example, disability or age. I'm the last person to say that issues like this are not important and of course we have been discussing race and religious hatred in our own Parliament only recently.

"But what that debate showed was that these are wide-ranging issues on which there are different, strongly and legitimately held opinions and where intervention must have the strongest justification. Some member states - and I don't just mean the UK - will have serious difficulties with such an approach on grounds of freedom of speech."

Other opponents to the new proposals include James Murdoch, the chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting.

The plan to extend the scope of the TWFD is set to go before the European Parliament later this year. The new proposals, if implemented, will govern material shown on the internet which originates in EU member states. The internet industry fears that some content providers will move outside the trading bloc rather than submit to regulation.

The TV and internet industries are moving closer together as new technologies and faster download speeds make it easier to broadcast video on the web.

Last week Google was criticised for bowing to pressure from Beijing to stop Chinese citizens using the company's new google.cn portal to search for websites that refer to Tibetan independence, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the banned Falun Gong organisation. An executive with links to Google, whose motto is "Don't be evil", said yesterday: "Better to allow Chinese citizens to access 99 per cent of information on the web than nothing at all."

The country runs a sophisticated system of internet control, known as "The Great Firewall of China", which blocks access to Western sites.

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