ICCO engages with European governments on digital media and misinformation


By Stephen Waddington, UK managing director at Metia Group.

ICCO is working with the Council of Europe to shape European policy around digital media and misinformation. I caught up with Deputy Rob Morbin to find out more.

What is the Council of Europe, how does it influence governments, and how is it funded?

It’s an international organisation created to uphold human rights, democracy and rule of law in Europe, comprised of 47 member states.

The Council of Europe does not make binding laws but exists to create international agreements across a wider range of countries than the EU. The best-known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights. It is funded by annual fees from the 47-member state governments.

What’s the Council of Europe Partnership with the IT sector?

It’s one of a number ‘private sector partnerships’ that the Information Society, sometimes referred to as the Information Department, has forged to inform and improve its policy making. This specific IT partnership seeks advice on issues such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition, hate speech and digital literacy.

Why is ICCO joining the Council of Europe Partnership with the IT sector an important move?

It’s important for two reasons. Firstly, it signifies the growing respect global institutions hold for PR. As an industry, we’re finally being recognised for the impact we have on business and society.

Secondly, it gives us an opportunity to influence legislation that will impact PR, business and broader society. Few industries are better equipped to assess and inform policy making on issues around disinformation than ours.

Our members are often the intermediaries between organisations and the public. They hold an extremely powerful - and privileged - position. They must work in tandem with tech developers to ensure new technology is sufficiently regulated and ethically implemented. The Council give us a route to achieve that.

What are the issues that ICCO plans to raise as part of its participation in Council of Europe Partnership with the IT sector?

Our first meeting focused on artificial intelligence, facial recognition, hate speech and digital literacy, however we have the opportunity to join a range of committees addressing issues such as media and freedom of expression.

We also want to ensure communications and business professionals are aware of their ethical responsibilities, particularly around issues including; data usage in micro targeting, chat bots, and the communication of privacy options. The opportunities for us are plentiful but it’s imperative we begin by gathering the views of ICCO members.

Google and Facebook are part of the partnership. How does this sit with criticism of their failure to tackle the issue of disinformation and fake news?

It would be impossible to address these issues without inviting the major tech platforms to the table. The algorithms employed by these platforms need to be understood and scrutinised by policymakers. Their involvement gives us - and the policymakers - a better opportunity engage these platforms directly. The measures the tech platforms are already taking to combat these issues are a result of dialogue with other sectors and institutions, so it’s essential we remain open to collaboration.

What does the move mean for ICCO members and how do they influence debate?

It means they have more power and influence than ever before. We will consult with our members on the relevant topics over the next eight weeks. Those that take part will have the opportunity to frame discussions that shape policies on some of the most important issues of our time. These consultations will be conducted both directly through ICCO and our national and regional associations, many of which will have their own committees exploring these issues.

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