“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Today is the third of May. And it means it is the World Press Freedom Day. So, as it could not be otherwise, I am going to dedicate this post to Journalism and freedom.
Freedom of speech is a political right that consists of communicating one’s ideas via speech. Freedom of expression is a very similar concept, but it also includes “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice” -this is, sharing ideas through any kind of medium-, according to the 19th article of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The 19th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that this right involves “special duties and responsibilities” and can be “subject to certain restrictions”.
Now, if we refocus this issue on the theme of the Internet, we can find the term net neutrality, which means that “Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication”.
If the Internet were “ruled” under this principle, it would be a free space where, therefore, freedom of expression would reign and all the opinions or points of view would be respected and freely shared, in a democratic way. In other words, the Internet is a very large and common area in which people from around the world say anything they want, which is heard by the rest of the people as well. This way, from this statement, it can be concluded that the Internet is as big and diverse as humanity itself.
For this reason, the Internet not only allows us to access a place where we can express ourselves in free way, but it also promotes the concept of freedom of speech itself. When people take part of this huge community, they appreciate more and more this right since they can feel its benefits in themselves, as a personal experience.
As a matter of fact, the 2013 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index points out that Finland is the country that more respects media freedom, followed by the Netherlands and Norway. Democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions, as the most violent ones against journalists: Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
The Reporters Without Borders secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, makes an interesting statement: “In dictatorships, news providers and their families are exposed to ruthless reprisals, while in democracies news providers have to cope with the media’s economic crises and conflicts of interest”. So, while in dictatorial regimes the repression even can be physical, in democratic countries money and benefits rule. Political instability also makes it very difficult for journalists to be independent. Under these circumstances, they also receive threats and physical attacks and staff purges are common.
Tanzania is another example of authoritarian country. There, the repression against journalists is also very severe. For example, in the space of only two months, a journalist was killed while covering a demonstration and another was murdered.
In Oman, belonging to the region of the Middle East and North Africa, 50 netizens and bloggers were prosecuted on cyber-crime charges in 2012.
The Iranian regime does not limit itself to just imprison journalists and citizens. Even the relatives of journalists, including the ones of those who are abroad, are harassed.
In February, the Egyptian Court issued a verdict to impose the prohibition of a month over YouTube because of the refusal of the website to delete the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. Other countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Afghanistan also asked for its removal but they did not get any result.
Another example of censorship by authoritarian governments is the case of Anas Awwad. The Palestinian tribunal sentenced him to one year in jail, finding him guilty for speaking ill of the President on Facebook. Awwad’s father said that his son left a comment that stated: ”The new forward of the Real Madrid” under the picture of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, kicking a ball during a visit to Spain in 2011.
Also, the police in China arrested a Chinese user of the microblogging website Weibo for criticizing the “Fan Club” of the leader of the Chinese communist party, Xi Jinping. He was accused of “inciting to subversion of the power of the State”.
But not only journalists and bloggers are censored in repressive countries. Culture is also very affected. In the African country Uganda, the National Theatre censored a play that tackled the issue of homosexuality and the difficulties it carries in that country. The role was cancelled when the regulatory authorities intervened.
After reading about what the Internet means as a public access to freedom of expression, the difference of the situation of media in democracies and in dictatorships and all these cases of repression over journalists, bloggers and, in short, people who fight for and believe in freedom of expression, we can conclude that some people take risks to tell the world what is happening in every place – they put their lives in danger. But, from my point of view, these people’s objective is also to change the authoritarian regimes from its roots, this is, to eradicate the repression and start living in a democratic and free way. However, unfortunately, in many places of the world, governors are more interested in their own benefit than in the people’s, and they carry matters too far. And, as we know, the easiest way to maintain one’s power is to shut the people through terror.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
— Voltaire (1694-1778). French philosopher and writer.