04 May 2009

Bad for Bloggers, Bad for Press Freedom

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released a report identifying what it calls the “10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger.” CPJ puts Burma in first place because it has “a military government that severely restricts Internet access and imprisons people for years for posting critical material.”

CPJ goes on to call Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Egypt the leading online oppressors in the Middle East and North Africa, while it pegs China and Vietnam as Asia’s worst blogging nations. Cuba and Turkmenistan round out the CPJ list.

The CPJ report coincides with World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd. Last year CPJ reported that bloggers and other online journalists were the single largest professional group in prison, overtaking print and broadcast journalists for the first time.

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon says: “The governments on the list are trying to roll back the information revolution, and, for now, they are having success. Freedom of expression groups, concerned governments, the online community, and technology companies need to come together to defend the rights of bloggers around the world.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists report comes as the New York Times carries a fascinating report about how unusual alliances have been forged to help people worldwide use technology to try to defeat government efforts to censor what they can read online.

The report by John Markoff notes, for example, that Iranian Internet users last year began circumventing government censorship by using a freely-downloaded computer program created by Chinese computer experts with the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has been suppressed by the Chinese government.

As Markoff reports: “a disparate alliance of political and religious activists, civil libertarians, Internet entrepreneurs, diplomats and even military officers and intelligence agents are now challenging growing Internet censorship.”

The article notes the Voice of America has financed some circumvention technology efforts. With a growing audience online, especially in countries where authorities try to censor the news, it is in VOA’s interests to support what is, after all, considered a fundamental human right: that everyone has the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

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