CULTURAL DIVERSITY, Equal Rights, Islam, Online media, Women's Rights

Pushing for unanimity in women’s rights across 27 members states with some extremely varied attitudes towards women’s roles in society – whether more family focussed in Poland or entirely liberated with legalised prostitution in Germany – is extremely complex.

But the reporting of women’s rights issues in Afghanistan this weekend has made me appreciate just how united Europe is on this issue. And how important it is that we look beyond our own borders to push for the human rights of our sisters in the Middle East.

As Afghanistan’s Parliament debated ways to protect female politicians from assassination this Easter Monday, following the murder of Kandahar provincial council member Sitari Achakzai on Sunday, women attending the country’s most progressive university expressed her distaste and annoyance at the West’s ‘meddling’ in the rights of women in their country.


Afghan women want West to back off ‘rape law’

Women attending Kabul University told a Canadian journalist that the West should not involve itself in the country’s religious affairs. “We do not want total freedom. We want it to be limited and to be within Islam”, a young female student architect is reported as saying.

The student Hamida Hasani, aged 18, says that when faced with hunger and war issues of women’s rights pale into insignificance. ”If they [the West] faced what we have faced… they’d realise what is important here” she said. She then added, that the problem of women’s rights in Afghanistan belongs to Afghan women – no one else. I completely disagree with this young student’s sentiments.

How can the fundamental human rights of fifty per cent of the population not be important? And one woman’s suffering not be the problem of another’s? No matter how divided in culture and geography people may be, one person’s suffering is the concern of another. Women reading this article must not back off the ‘rape law’, a much reported new Shia law allowing men to have sex with their wives inspite of their wishes. Instead they must be cheered and united by that their efforts, which have resulted in the Afghan President scrapping the offending law.

Karzai bows to international calls to scrap Afghan ‘rape’ law

Women’s liberation is at the heart of every economy, every democracy, the fundamentals of human rights. Never is an issue more pressing or more in the interest of every other woman worldwide.

Frighteningly, the reportage of this story is limited as no other student could be found on the campus that was aware on the pending Shia family legislation or of Achakzai’s murder by Taliban gunmen.

Commenting on this, women’s rights campaigner Fauzia Kofi, who represents the Badakhshan constituency, said “Public awareness of any legislation before Parliament is very low. This new Shia law got very little attention anywhere before it appeared in the UK Guardian and became a big international story. It is still not a big domestic story.”

So, if it were not for the Guardian’s reportage this law allowing men to rape their wives would have slipped through unnoticed. What more riling and convincing reason could bloggers, journalists and commentators need to scrutinise, campaign and raise awareness the treatment of women overseas?

If you ever face similar such arguments student Hasani’s, which dissuade you from ‘interfering’ in foreign women’s rights, please bear in mind this very famous poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Communists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Social Democrats,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Social Democrat.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew,

Then they came for me,

and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.


internet, Online media

Readers may have noticed some improvements to my blog that I have made over the past week.

Firstly, I am now using Twitter! I hope that I’ll be able to use it to keep people up to date with my political activities and thoughts. Feel free to become my “follower” and get my “tweets.”

Secondly, in response to some reader’s requests I now have a facility that allows people to get my blog via e-mail. When new pieces go up you will get an e-mail. Just sign up by clicking the link on the right hand side.


blog, internet, Labour Party, Online media

Thought I would share with my readers John Prescott’s wonderful video that I saw at the LabourList Bloggers’ Breakfast this morning. It was a light hearted message to Peter Mandelson, who was present at the meeting!


blog, Media, Online media

Last week MEPs voted through a report by my Estonian MEP colleague Marianne Mikko. The report was on the importance of media pluralism. The report covered problems with the concentration of media ownership into a small number of companies. It also called for more transparency about media ownership as well as encouraging use of the ‘digital dividend’ spectrum to promote media plurality.

These are important issues, but as often happens with Parliamentary reports, the main issues were overshadowed at the last moment by other concerns. The report turned into a debate about proposals to register bloggers.

Marcel Berlins wrote about this in the Guardian last week, although he may have slightly misrepresented Marianne Mikko’s position.

I was one of a number of MEPs who strongly argued that the blogosphere should be kept open. There are already existing legal measures to deal with illegal content online. We should not be restricting or registering bloggers who play a vital role in our democracy.

Of course those who express concern that bloggers have hidden agendas and can hide behind anonymity are right to be concerned. But the solution is for us to improve media literacy in the public at large, not to demand registration of bloggers.

A compromise was made on the report before the final vote. The report, as adopted, simply encourages an open debate about clarifying the legal status of blogs.

Surely we can all agree to that. I’m sure much of that debate will take place on blogs themselves.

You can read the final report here:

There’s also more on the position of other MEPs here:


Online media, video
Back in 2006 I wrote to the Secretary General of the European Parliament to suggest that our meetings in Parliament should be podcast via the web. I thought this would be an excellent way to demystify what goes on in the Parliament. It would also allow citizens and lobbyists to follow meetings in more detail and would ensure more transparency over what goes on here.

I’m delighted then that some three years later the Parliament has introduced a similar system by streaming the audio and video from meetings over the web.

I’ve just come back from the launch of europarlTV. EuroparlTV is split into four sections, each for different audiences.

One part is for those with a special interest in politics, including lobbyists and academics. There’s another section for school-age children. There’s a section with background material and finally a feature to stream meetings live.

You can see europarlTV yourself by visiting


Online media

Recently the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committee voted on a report on how marketing and advertising effect equality between men and women. We are surrounded by advertising in our day-to-day lives in newspapers, magazines, poster advertising, on the web and of course, on television. Advertisers are very talented at creating and reflecting trends in society in order to sell their products. To communicate with us their messages need to be very clear and pared down. Sometimes though, the necessity to be clear can lead advertisers to oversimplify a situation or to stereotype people. This can become a serious problem if the same message about a certain group of people is enforced over and over again. Children are particularly susceptible to the messages of advertising and we need to be careful that we are not giving them a skewed view of the world. For example, a recent British Medical Council Report highlights the fact that while advertising featuring extremely thin women does not directly cause eating disorders in young women, they do contribute to the problem by reinforcing the message that ‘thin’ equals good, successful and in control.

This is not to say that all advertising is bad, in fact, in the UK are lucky as Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority have very clear guidelines about stereotyping in advertising, and advertisers themselves have been good at avoiding direct stereotyping. It is no longer good enough in the UK to put a woman in a bikini beside a car or piece of furniture in order to sell it. British consumers demand more from advertising and as a result the bulk of our advertising is clever, sharp and often very witty.

Unfortunately this is not the case across the EU. In some countries women are still objectified like a product in order to sell a product. This is plainly wrong as it reinforces the message that women can literally be bought and sold. One of the positive things about the EU is that member states can learn from each others successes.

In Parliament’s report, I tabled amendments that were examples of best practice from the UK that were calling for a European-wide set of standards that advertisers could use to self-regulate, much like we already do here in the UK. The report is going to be voted on by the entire parliament in September and I am hopeful that these measures will go through. I believe it’s a really important step in the battle for equality between women and men.


apple, Child Safety, Online media

Yesterday the Government signalled its support for a new set of standards for internet content. This is welcome.

The way people consume television is changing rapidly. Just this week Apple announced their new iPhone which will make it even easier to watch video on the move.

I am only too aware of how difficult it is to regulate a fast evolving market. Last year I worked on the EU’s so called ‘Audiovisual Media Services Directive’ which covers broadcasting laws across the EU. We looked at a number of issues surrounding child protection. How can parents keep an eye on what children are watching when they are carrying around their own video player?

When we watch traditional broadcast television we have come to expect certain levels of protection, particularly before the watershed. Such expectations don’t necessarily exist on the internet or when watching streamed television. New codes of conduct from mobile operators are clearly necessary. I recently spoke to T-Mobile about some of the work their are doing on their ‘Contect Lock’

You may be interested to read this article in The Guardian which explains some of the issues:

Broadband in the City

internet, Media, Online media

Today the BBC reported that Londoners enjoy some of the fastest broadband speeds in the country. This is great news, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are still too many people in the Capital who struggle to get high speed internet access because their buildings have not had the required cables installed. Other people in large apartment buildings also struggle to get satellite or cable television installed because of the costs of rewiring the building. I hope that new wireless services can give these people more options for receiving broadband and digital television.

With that in mind, I tabled a couple of amendments today to a report on the “Digital Dividend” (see my blog from last Thursday) which seek to make these new wireless services more likely and offer the consumer more choice.

You can read the BBC’s story here:

The iPlayer

bbc, broadcasting, internet, Media, Online media, spectrum

In my last blog I wrote about the digital dividend and closing the so called ‘digital divide’. Broadcasters are obviously keen to hang on to as much spectrum as possible for new channels or high definition TV. But some broadcasters are already investing in new ways of distributing their content – over the internet.

You may be interested in this article from the Guardian on how the BBC’s iPlayer is changing the way we watch television.

Digital Dividend

broadcasting, Digital Technology, Media, Online media, spectrum

The airwaves – or radio spectrum – are a finite resource. Radio spectrum is used to carry mobile phone signals, radio, analogue television, freeview, satellite signals, radar and much, much more.

A large amount of this spectrum is currently used for analogue broadcasting of the five terrestrial television channels in the UK (BBC 1 and 2, ITV, Channels 4 and 5).

Digital broadcasting, like freeview, makes more efficient use of the radio spectrum. This means more channels can be broadcast in a smaller part of the spectrum.

The Government hopes that everyone will switch over to digital television by 2012. This will free up a lot of the old spectrum for new uses. This is called the ‘digital dividend’.

The European Parliament’s Industry Committee, of which I am a member, is currently considering some of the best ways of reusing this spectrum.

I spoke in Committee on Tuesday and said that I am keen to see at least part of this spectrum used to end the so called ‘digital divide’ whereby some people have excellent access to the internet and other people struggle to get connected. This is sometimes because they are in remote areas or in older buildings which are difficult to fit with the required cabling. This is particularly important for London where it’s difficult to wire-up many older tower blocks. Wireless broadband could certainly help.

Access to the internet is becoming so important in everyday life, for access to the media, for internet banking, email and access to government services. We must make sure that no one gets left behind without proper access to the net.