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May 7, 2007 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

World Press Freedom Day and Internet Repression

Complaining about local media is something of a national pastime for various countries worldwide, be it on the idiocy of reportage during the ‘silly season’ or the perceived narrow views of a certain columnist. It may seem cliched to point it out, but the depressing truth is that for a large amount of the world’s population, unbiased and informative journalism is hardly a daily reality. Thousands of journalists are threatened daily for reportage that reflects unfavourably on government policies, corrupt politicians or drug lords.

Last Thursday was a significant day for anyone involved in journalism and news making worldwide. World Press Freedom Day has been celebrated every May the 3rd since 1993, designated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and governments’ roles in upholding these freedoms.

Even in the supposedly liberal nations of the West, the perceived threat of terrorism has led to widespread surveillance and censorship of many media outlets. Extreme measures such as the criminal prosecution of journalists for disclosing classified information and the surveillance of communications without judicial authorisation undermine the integrity and abilities of the free press.

Elsewhere, repression of those trying to discover the truth about the actions of governments, businesses and individuals is blatant and violent. In Russia last year, the respected journalist Anna Politzkovskaya was killed by an attacker who did not bother to hide his face or disable security cameras, leading many to suppose he believed himself protected from prosecution. Polizkovskaya was a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and his policies in Chechnya and had received many death threats during her career.

The World Association of Newspapers reports that in 2006 there were 101 journalists killed around the world, including 45 in Iraq alone. According to the Press Freedom Organisation, Reporters Without Borders, so far this year there have been 24 journalists killed, as well as 190 journalists and cyber dissidents jailed. The internet, long hailed as a new frontier for the flow of information and ideas, is increasingly coming under threat by governments seeking to crack down on those publishing information critical of them. This also affects people outside of these countries in their ability to impart and receive information from those being repressed.

China in particular has been criticised for its draconian internet policies.

Amnesty International’s campaign to draw attention to internet repression has highlighted the alarming complicity of large communications companies such as Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft, in helping the Chinese government track and punish cyber-dissidents. This has included Yahoo! passing on personal information about its users to the government (which led to the imprisonment of two journalists, considered by Amnesty to be prisoners of conscience), Microsoft shutting down blogs on the request of the Chinese authorities and Google releasing a censored version of its search engine. These companies argue that their presence is helping to bring the beauty of the internet to the Chinese, but in reality they are simply attempting to tap into one of the worlds largest markets. In doing so they are violating their own express policies and their public commitments to freedom of information.

Remember those who have died for the cause of freedom of information.

Take Action:
Amnesty International’s Internet Repression Campaign
Reporters Without Borders

Amnesty on Campus meets at 10-11am Tuesdays in the Clubs Room, Student Union Building. New members always welcome.


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