Closed Countries: No News Hurts Less than Free Speech

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/02/new-internet-law-turkey-sparks-outrage-201422312144687859.html

I saw this article on Turkey’s new law on internet censorship. I was wondering if the benefits of a media black out, censorship of the internet, or jailing journalists out weigh the potentially negative benefits to a country or government’s PD. This is somewhat in line with Andrea’s post about twitter in Venezuela last week. Now that Egypt, Bahrain, Ukraine, Venezuela and other revolutions and protests have been organized or publicized through social media it seems logical for a regime to censor the internet to prevent information from leaking, opposition to spread their competing message, or movements to organize. Arms shows have seen a proliferation of software and systems designed to monitor, censor, and control the internet of a country.

Turkey has led the world in number of jailed journalists for years this has not hurt their perception as an open, secular, democratic country. A few other examples are: France imposed a media blackout on their intervention in Mali. Right now Venezuela is keeping a somewhat tight control on coverage of events there. China keeps a tight control of journalists and Tibet and Pakistan prohibits travel to Baluchistan. Discouraging coverage of drone strikes by the government in Yemen. In general it seems that the press getting the opportunity to shed light on controversial policy/events and causing them to go viral is a much more damaging then arresting journalists
or prohibiting travel to a certain portion of a country.

Is there a real benefit to transparency and openness to a government that has things to hide? How important is restricting opposition to controversial policies? If economic and geostrategic concerns consistently trump human rights and international law why bother to work so hard to craft ones PD? What strategies or tactics can vulnerable governments use to promote their image and advance their interests while they are engaging in less than admirable activities? How can the journalists, NGOs, and others circumvent these obstructions to the movement of people, information, and the freedom of speech?

One comment:

  1. You pose many important questions at the end of your post. I agree, of course, that in countries with restricted access, the idea of transparency of laws, policies, and opposing viewpoints, seems almost like a joke. How can you trust a country’s PD when you have credible information that is damaging to the image of that same country? It’s as if that government if just checking a box—we have to do some kind of outreach to foreign publics, so even though they know our policies are less than outstanding, let’s try to trick them into liking us anyway. Is this a hyperbole? Yes. But in reality, it’s as if these countries are attempting to lead two very different lives, the public façade and their true private endeavors.

    So, to answer your initial question, no I don’t think there is any real benefit to openness for a government that has things to hide. It seems like wasted effort with little to gain. Alternatively, I would say it is important for them to restrict the opposition to their controversial policies because how else will they be able to carry on with their policies if individuals and groups are trying to thwart them or publicly ‘out’ them?

    The most important among your questions, I believe, is the last one: How can the journalists, NGOs, and others circumvent these obstructions to the movement of people, information, and the freedom of speech? It is crucial that journalists and groups dedicated to preserving human and civil rights make local connections to opposition forces and find safe ways to broadcast their message through various media outlets and print sources. This way, regardless of the message that a country is trying to put out via PD programs and initiatives, the truth is also surfacing so that publics are not fooled. Is this easy? No. But it is necessary. The further dilemma is credibility, as Fahmy et al notes. In order for any foreign public to believe these journalists, they must be perceived as credible, or at least more credible than the government they’re criticizing.

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