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Christchurch Call pressured its advisory network not to release critical reports of member countries

Philip Crump,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Apr 2024, 4:00pm
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Christchurch Call pressured its advisory network not to release critical reports of member countries

Philip Crump,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Apr 2024, 4:00pm

Yesterday Prime Minister Luxon ended his post Cabinet press conference by addressing the question about whether the government will continue to support Jacinda Ardern as the special envoy for the Christchurch Call.

"We will have more to say about that very very shortly, obviously there's been a good series of conversations about how that model continues to evolve; it's important work but watch this space, we'll talk about that very shortly," Luxon said.

However, serious concerns were raised by Georgia Tech's Internet Governance Project (IGP), which led to it withdrawing from the Christchurch Call Advisory Network (CCAN) in November 2023.

IGP is described as the leading source of independent analysis of global internet governance comprising a group of professors, postdoctoral researchers and students hosted at the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a top U.S. university. The group provides analysis and proposals relating to internet governance processes at the United Nations, agencies of the U.S. government and the European Commission, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Regional Internet Address Registries (RIRs) and other institutions.

In a press release issued in November 2023, IGP stated, "CCAN is supposed to provide independent advice on the fulfilment of Christchurch Call commitments and help governments and industry balance content moderation policies with political diversity concerns and individual free expression rights.

"After three years of active participation in CCAN, it is clear that it will not live up to this promise. As the signatory states do not really enforce the Call commitments, states have no real incentive to improve their behaviour. Some of the governments involved do not respect the autonomy of the CCAN and are not interested in independent advice if it is critical of their actions. Worse, we have found that too many CCAN civil society organisations will not stand up for its independence but prefer to withhold criticism to maintain privileged access to governmental policy makers.

"Our withdrawal was triggered by a specific incident, which involved an attempt by CCAN to produce evaluation reports assessing member states’ compliance with the Call commitments. CCAN sent surveys to signatories and conducted desk research to assess their compliance. When the finished reports were sent to the governments, there was significant pushback. It came from more senior staff in governments and companies than had engaged with the evaluation process. Due to the objections received by the CC Call secretariat, CCAN was strongly discouraged from publishing the evaluation reports. CCAN was told that if the reports were published, some countries would refuse to engage with CCAN in the future, while interactions with others would become 'more senior, more formal and more strained'. Presented with these options, a majority of the CCAN membership voted to bury its reports.

"We respect the good-faith efforts of France and New Zealand to seek guidance and advice from civil society. We also respect the efforts of most of the civil society groups to stay involved. However, the independence of CCAN has been fatally compromised, in our opinion. IGP cannot justify investing additional time and labour on processes that provide only the appearance of accountability and input, not the reality. IGP is withdrawing from CCAN as of November 9, 2023, and asks to be removed from the list of CCAN members and from associated email lists."

The Christchurch Call Unit was established within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) immediately prior to the second anniversary of the mosque massacre on March 15, 2019, and operates as a joint venture with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In a response to an OIA from ZB Plus on the issue, DPMC confirmed that, "In May 2022, CCAN initiated a pilot evaluation of how ten Call Supporters (governments and companies) are meeting their Call Commitments. This is an independent pilot project, which CCAN designed and carried out at its own initiative and using its own resources. The ten Supporters are: Australia, Canada, Google/YouTube, France, India, Meta, Microsoft, New Zealand, Twitter, and the UK."

"Following the sharing of draft reports with selected Call Supporters in November 2023, the Call Secretariat either received or was copied into correspondence relating to objections in connection with the draft reports. This correspondence was conveyed on a basis of confidence in relation to draft material and its release could prejudice the international relations of the Government of New Zealand." 

On that basis DPMC declined to provide copies of the objections to ZB Plus. 

DPMC confirmed that the Secretariat had expressed concerns that publishing the reports could undermine trust within the Call Community.

"Following consultation between CCAN, the Call Secretariat, and some of the supporting countries evaluated by the pilot project, CCAN took a membership-majority decision to publish a fuller summary of key findings and recommendations on the CCAN website."

In its key findings that were eventually published, CCAN states that there is the acknowledgment that, "it was much harder to find evidence that supporters had implemented their commitments under the Call beyond declarations of intent to do so. If work was undertaken in response to the Call, it was rarely identified as such, making measurement of the Call’s impact difficult. This raises questions about the consistency of the Call’s impact across its many government and company supporters."

In an interview to be aired this afternoon on Drive with Heather du Plessis-Allan on Newstalk ZB, Milton Mueller, the founder of IGP, said: "... from a standpoint of civil society participation, it is pointless.  It is pointless for me to spend a lot of time working in this network if we can't try to uphold the principles that it's supposed to be founded upon."

Du Plessis-Allan asked: "Well what's the point? If we're supposed to be holding people to account and requiring that they behave in a certain way, but we can't audit them and we can't talk about it, what is the point?"

Mueller responded: "I think that is a very good question. That does raise questions about, is the Christchurch Call accomplishing anything?"

The Newstalk ZB host then asked: "Isn't this a waste of everyone's money and time then?"

Mueller replied: "I don't know how much money comes into that from New Zealand taxpayers, but we decided that it was a waste of our time.  That's why we resigned."

A Christchurch Call spokesperson told Newstalk ZB this afternoon, "In May 2022, CCAN initiated a pilot evaluation methodology with a small subset of Call supporters. Following consultation between CCAN, the Call Secretariat, and some of the supporting countries in the pilot project, CCAN decided to publish a summary of key findings and recommendations of that work.

"The joint statement following the November 2023 Call Leaders’ Summit endorsed work on a multistakeholder process to evaluate the Community’s work against the Call commitments, and to foster transparency and communication around the Call’s impact. This tasking reflects the Community’s ongoing commitment to monitoring and evaluation, including drawing on insights from the CCAN pilot."


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