Egypt and the internet ‘killswitch’

The protests in Egypt this year captured the world’s attention and part of the initial excitement about the protests was that they were a “Facebook revolution”, with the initial spark for the unprecedented demonstrations coming from the new and uncontrollable frontier of the internet.

The Egyptian authorities soon put paid to that, firstly by blocking access to Facebook and Twitter. When savvy users resorted to Tor, a piece of software that allows internet users to circumvent censorship systems, the authorities shut down the internet. 88% of Egyptian internet users lost access to the web completely. As the Telegraph notes:

The Egyptian government’s action is unprecedented in the history of the internet. Countries such as China, Iran, Thailand and Tunisia have cut off access to news websites and social networking services during periods of unrest…

The ongoing attempt by the Egyptian government to shut down all online communication is, however, a new phenomenon. It not only prevents ordinary Egyptian internet users from accessing any websites, it cripples Tor, an anti-censorship tool that technical experts and activists were using to circumvent the Facebook and Twitter blocks.

All well and good. But it could never happen in the west, right?

The same day that Egypt was having it’s access to the internet shut down, reports surfaced in the US media that a bill that would give the President a so called “kill switch” the power to shut down the internet had been revived and would be presented to Congress. Wired explains the rationale:

An aide to the Homeland Security committee described the bill as one that does not mandate the shuttering of the entire internet. Instead, it would authorize the president to demand turning off access to so-called “critical infrastructure” where necessary.

An example, the aide said, would require infrastructure connected to “the system that controls the floodgates to the Hoover dam” to cut its connection to the net if the government detected an imminent cyber attack.

Yes, to protect the Hoover Dam the President of the United States needs the power to shut down the computer network that controls the Hoover dam. And also the network that controls Farmville.

Worrying.

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Thank you

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank you all for following this blog. I know I speak for all of us when I say we’ve thoroughly enjoyed putting it together and finding out more about press freedom worldwide and the impact of digital technologies.

Thank you for your interesting and thought provoking comments, and for shaping the continued research into the subject.

I hope what you have learnt from our investigations into this topic will assist your future careers.

Thank you again.

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The End…

So, we’re at the end of the project and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed researching and learning about freedom of the press worldwide.  I would conclude that we are lucky to live in the UK where we have such freedom of expression that we should be free from fear in what we write (within reason) and can do our jobs acting as the voice of the people.

Yesterday we all attended the One World Student Media Programme by Sophie Chalk.  While we discussed in length how to create a successful news report or documentary, something else we discussed was media coverage in developed or, more interestingly, undeveloped countries.

We have been working toward finding the answer for press freedom worldwide, and how the internet has shaped that. Yesterday made me realise just how lucky we journalists are in the UK, and I would hope that in the future we will all do our bit to share  and report  on the struggles many face.

Something I think we will all agree on is no matter how much freedom the press we have in our country, or that in others, or how much coverage one news item gets over another, poverty, disease and how we can help, simply does not get enough.

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The Power of the Social Network

My contribution to the presentation on the question: “What effect is digital technology having on efforts to defend and improve press and broadcasting freedom worldwide?”

Done as an ‘as-live’ during the presentation, in the style of a Youtube rant.  Post-modern, or what?

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The Dark Side of Digital Technology

As many of us have mentioned in this blog, digital technology has had a huge impact on press freedom.  I was tempted to do a summary, but Anne did this perfectly, and I don’t feel another one from me is particularly necessary.

So instead, I will talk about how technology has been the opposite of the Messiah, but in fact a very naughty boy.

In a recent feature I did, and am now plugging, I covered press freedom in South Africa under the apartheid regime up to 1994.  Unlike the countries we have mentioned such as Iran and Burma, here digital technology was working for the corrupt government, and against the people who’s voice it should have been representing.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation was the South African people’s only TV option, and it was firmly in the pocket of the apartheid government.  There were very few media outlets which stood up to the regime such as one good, old-fashioned newspaper the Weekly Mail.

But newspapers such as this only had a very small readership in relation to the population of the country.  Television is a medium that requires no background knowledge, no education and no effort.  Information pumped through it can be absorbed passively, and is often taken as the truth; the only truth.

Fortunately, there were also radio stations such as who also dared to challenge the strict government rules regarding broadcasting.  They successfully streamed a live Peter Gabriel concert from Harare in neighbouring Zimbabwe, including a song he played for the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died while in police custody.

Unfortunately this is not all history.  Today South Africa’s media have unbelievable freedom (for the time being…), but in country’s such as Italy and Venezuela, the leaders have complete control over the television stations.

In these countries, the press are shunned by the people who much prefer TV news, despite its bias.

So while there is press freedom in these countries, the population are either ignorant of their existence or simply prefer the television.  It is not the newest technology available, but it is by far one of the most influential.

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Summary

This blogproject was (apart from keeping us busy) meant to answer the question:

What effect is digital technology having on efforts to defend and improve press and broadcasting freedom worldwide?

I think, every single one of us tried their best to analyse the situations in different countries, find various aspects of how digital technologies are used and why and also to include latest news to make it more palpable.

I hope, that all the links, videos and audio helped to bring that across and that our blog was informative and interesting for those wanting to know more about press freedom in general and the link to digital technologies in particular. I certainly want to thank all those of you who sparked the discussion with their comments!

Through choosing a couple of case studies, we tried to somehow get around the vast field of press freedom. I am sure there are other ways to do it, and there are so many more countries that we could have talked about, so there is definitely potential to extend this project.

Fact is, that I learned a lot. Not only through our own blog but also through reading the blogs of the other groups and seeing their presentations. So… well done, everybody! 🙂

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Useful links for further information…

As we near the end of the project, here are some extra bits of information surrounding press freedom worldwide that we haven’t covered but which are important…

The Broadcast Freedom Act

The Broadcaster Freedom Act is a petition put together on Facebook in America.  It states The Broadcast Freedom Act: “will prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from prescribing rules, regulations, or policies that will reinstate the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints in controversial issues of public importance. The Broadcaster Freedom Act will prevent the FCC or any future President from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. This legislation ensures true freedom and fairness will remain on our radio airwaves, and I would encourage everybody to cosponsor and support this bill”.  Read more about this:

Press Freedom Index 2010

This is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders based upon the organization’s assessment of their press freedom records, published on 20th October 2010.  The report is based on a questionnaire sent to partner organizations of Reporters Without Borders and its 130 correspondents around the world, as well as to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.  The survey asks questions about direct attacks on journalists and the media as well as other indirect sources of pressure against the free press.  Read more about this:

Centre for International Media Assistance

Press Freedom in Ukraine: Incredible Shrinking Media Space

On October 22, CIMA and Internews Network hosted a panel discussion.  This followed on from the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index results, which downgraded Ukraine 42 spots to 131st place, worse than Zimbabwe and Egypt, and alongside countries such as Algeria and Cameroon. Recent reports by Freedom House and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty warn of a disturbing increase in political pressure, censorship, and attacks on journalists.  Read more about this:

Also, here is the video of the discussion.

There is also a number of other relevant videos from CIMA, such as Attacks on Press Freedom and Human Rights in Sri Lanka and Soft Censorship: Chipping Away at Press Freedom in Latin America.

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