Launched by Reporters Without Borders in 2008, World Day Against Cyber-Censorship (on 12 March 2011) is intended to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all.
The fight for online freedom of expression is more essential than ever. By creating new spaces for exchanging ideas and information, the Internet is a force for freedom. In countries where the traditional media are controlled by the government, the only independent news and information are to be found on the Internet, which has become a forum for discussion and a refuge for those who want to express their views freely.
However, more and more governments have realised this and are reacting by trying to control the Internet. Never have so many countries been affected by some form of online censorship, whether arrests or harassment of netizens, online surveillance, website blocking or the adoption of repressive Internet laws. Netizens are being targeted by government reprisals. Around 117 of them are currently detained for expressing their views freely online, mainly in China, Iran and Vietnam.
World Day Against Cyber-Censorship pays tribute to them and their fight for Internet freedom. Reporters Without Borders will mark the occasion by issuing its latest list of “Enemies of the Internet.”
RSF produced a nice website, a report (pdf) and a rather interesting map highlighting not only the “enemies of the Internet” (which are quite easy to guess) but also “countries under surveillance“. And there is bad news for Europe: For the first time a EU member state has made it into the ‘surveillance’ category: So, congratulations France – unfortunately it is not a huge surprise given the French three strikes legislation. It is however a timely reminder that internet censorship is also a problem in Europe!
Enemies of the Internet: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
It was a indeed a “bad start” for the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council: First the fierce criticism about the media law by the international media (see my #Censorban post here) followed by a carpet row and last weeks’ MEP protests in the European Parliament. And it is not even February…
In the meantime the European Commission started reviewing the controversial Hungarian media law and it just happened that the official letter of Neelie Kroes has been leaked to the Hungarian daily Népszabadság.
In the letter the European Commission asks the Hungarian authorities for “clarifications” on several issues:
It concludes with the statement that “Commission services have serious doubts as to the compatibility of the Hungarian legislation with Union law” . Furthermore, the European Commission “invites the Hungarian government to submit within two weeks observations on how these serious doubts may be addressed ”
A couple of bloggingportal editors will be meeting with some representatives of the Hungarian Council presidency later this week. If you have any questions you would like us to ask – feel free to use the comments below or contact bloggingportal (email, twitter, facebook)!
And it is a major problem: Hungary’s new media law.
Bloggingportal.eu launched a European Blog Action against Censorship in Hungary and also provides a good round-up of reactions and some background documents (just go through the comment thread!)
I don’t want to repeat the points that were made elsewhere. It is never a good idea to pass a law that can be used (even if nobody wants to use it in a specific way) to increase political control over the press. Even the slightest possibility of a a problematic legal clause needs to be addressed. Press and media freedom are too important for democracy in Europe. Simple as that.
As you know Hungary will take over the Council Presidency of the EU in January 2011. And there is even a new blog by the HU presidency. So feel free to voice your concern about the new law. Obviously they are not amused about the critical reactions and claim that the Council Presidency has nothing to do with Hungarian politics. But the new media law seems such a major problem that I think it is a legitimate thing to do. And anyway, the Council Presidency is organised by the Hungarian government… It would be a major embarrassment if the Council presidency was overshadowed by the media law…
So let’s take a picture of Viktor Orbán and transform him into Viktor #Censorbán (yes it is inspired by schäublone, #zensursula & #censilia). Basically it is a wordplay of Viktor Orban and Censorship. In other languages one could use Zensorban or Cenzorbana… the idea is quite flexible. Feel free to use, remix and share the picture (cc by-nc-sa). As you will notice, I am not a professional photoshop/gimp user and I did not have a good picture of Orban in the first place. So any quality improvements are much appreciated. Not sure whether this also makes sense in Hungarian as I do not speak the language. (so if you speak Hungarian leave a comment with improvements!) I know that it should rather read “Censorban Viktor” but well, let’s say it is designed for an international audience.
But there are a couple of things that we should think about in more detail:
First of all: It seems to me that media freedom and internet freedom are increasingly attacked by democratic governments around the world and Europe is following the trend. There are two principal strategies:
Option No 1: A government wants more control over the press or the internet. It is interesting to think about why this happens more frequently ( – and not understanding the internet is a big part of it) Usually it is framed as a security problem: “We need to know more about terrorist networks” or it is about the children: “We have to protect our children” . It can also be the result of intense industry lobbying to “protect customers and offer a better product” or it is connected to copyright issues. All these claims are very difficult to challenge in any campaign. (but it is not impossible!) Just think about the French internet blocking law, a couple of German internet laws (from “zensursula” to “JMStV”) or even international negotiations that include internet related articles such as ACTA. The debate on net neutrality can also be cited in this context. But the Hungarian law seems to go one step further as it us includes all types of media plus a governmental media watch dog…
Option No 2: A toxic combination of private and public interests mixed with strange business models, corruption and media monopolies. For example Murdoch in the UK, Berlusconi in Italy or the general level of corruption in Bulgaria that also affects the media. This is usually a gradual but equally dangerous process. (but also a topic for another blog post…)
The main question for the EU: What to do with those countries? The accession process is a straight forward process: Copenhagen criteria and conditionality prevent countries to adopt certain laws. However, once a country joined the EU there are not many possibilities to interfere with laws that might not be in the “spirit of the EU”. Italy or France can get away with laws that would not be allowed under a strict accession regime. And it is similar in the case of Hungary. So what could be done? Ignoring certain people in Council meetings (it did not work with Austria), reduce or stop payments of the cohesion funds/CAP or a suspension of voting rights in the Council? To impose a supervisory mechanism (mixed results in Romania and Bulgaria)? I am not convinced any of this would have an effect. But do we really need a new legal tool regarding fundamental freedoms?
The main question for the blogosphere: How to campaign against the various laws and legal practices that restrict press freedom (not only Hungary)? Media freedom in other (European) countries should be of concern for the (European) blogoshphere(s). So the question is whether this topic could potentially become a pan-European topic? There have been great blogging campaigns in Germany and France relating to press and internet freedom. We need to learn from successful campaigns in other EU countries and replicate the most efficient tools. And especially for smaller countries support from the rest of the EU might be crucial to run effective campaigns. In fact, it is one of the few topics that resonate with all national (political) blogospheres in Europe – which is not a surprise as every blogger can identify with the potential problems of a proposed law.
So what should be done with the Hungarian media law? Let’s keep the topic on the agenda, use the Council presidency to get EU wide media coverage – and embarrass the Hungarian government.
Update 27/12: Now you can also follow @censorban on twitter…
Update 30/12: SME Dennik, one of the biggest daily newspapers in Slovakia, mentions the bloggingportal campaign alongside the Censorban pic (although attributed to bloggingportal.eu which is not a problem – but a factual mistake) Anyway, the article can be found in the print (e-paper) and online version of the paper!
For the first time since 2002, the press freedom index’s top 20 is not quite so European. Only 15 of the 20 leading countries are from the Old Continent, compared with 18 in 2008. Eleven of these 15 countries are European Union members. They include the top three, Denmark, Finland and Ireland. Another EU member, Bulgaria, has been falling steadily since it joined in 2007 and is now 68th (against 59th in 2008). This is the lowest ranking of any member of the union.
The biggest one-year fall of any EU member was Slovakia’s. It sank 37 places to be 44th. This was mainly the result of government meddling in media activities and the adoption in 2008 of a law imposing an automatic right of response in the press. Two candidates for EU membership also experienced suffered dramatic falls. They were Croatia (78th), which fell 33 places, and Turkey (122nd), which fell 20 places.
The impact of organised crime and the targeting of journalists account for the falls suffered by both Bulgaria and Italy (49th), which got the worst ranking of the EU’s six original founders. Il Cavaliere’s harassment of the media, increased meddling, mafia violence against journalists who expose its activity and a bill that that would drastically curb the media’s ability to publish official phone tap transcripts explain why Italy fell for the second year running.
France (43rd) did not fare much better, falling eight points because of judicial investigations and arrests of journalists and raids on news media, and also because of meddling in the media by politicians, including President Nicolas Sarkozy.
A number of well known Moldovan civil society leaders issued a statement on the crisis: Declaration regarding the escalating social and political situation in Moldova after the parliamentary elections of April 5, 2009 (pdf)
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) also published a ‘Moldovan NGO statement': A Sustainable Solution to Political Crisis in Moldova Due to security concerns, the organisations behind it are not named.
One of the worrying developments in Moldova seems to be the deteriorating situation for journalists. Reporters without Borders “is very disturbed that the Moldovan authorities have been arresting journalists and even using violence against them.”
According to Nicu Popescu, several cyber attacks were carried out against Moldovan news sites. He also reports about FT and BBC journalists that were not allowed to enter the country.