Tag Archives: Make Blog not War

Censorship in the Netherlands

The next country in line for the censorship survey, after Mexico and Canadais the Netherlands

To recap, my questions were the following:

– Whether your country has a history of censorship
– Whether censorship has increased in the past decade
– My particular concern is web 2.0: blogging and social media – how have governments reacted to this?
– If you have any direct experiences of or related to censorship that you can and would like to speak about, and would not mind me publishing on my blog, please share.

This response comes from an Italian friend who lives in the Netherlands.

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As an expat in the Netherlands, I am not very familiar with Dutch culture, but I sought the help of a few friends to help answer your questions. Apart from a friend who is really attentive to such issues, none of my other Dutch friends were particularly concerned. Indeed there is dedicated article in Wikipedia about censorship in the Netherlands, while there is a long one for Italy.

A friend confirmed that there is no censorship in The Netherlands.

I think this has something to do with the political-decision making process that has been adopted in the course of history in the Netherlands. It relates to the Polder Model adopted both in politics and business, which refers to the fact that before taking a decision, all parties involved have to be listened to. A decision is based on the general consensus acquired only after a democratic discussion. I have heard complaints that this is a very long process. At which level this consensus is acquired – I’m not sure.

With regard to freedom of expression of the press, I am not sure that there is a real, critical debate in the Netherlands. My impression as a lay reader is that news here is not really brought to light or explored at a deeper level. An example of this is the recent news – from December 2011 – about the reproduction in a university laboratory in Rotterdam of a mutated form of the H5N1 virus, which caused the avian flu a few years ago. We must keep in mind that this virus can be transmitted to human beings with lethal effects. One of the Dutch researchers who worked on this project was in favour of publishing this, such that it would have given terrorists access to this potential biological weapon. However, the US Government strongly opposed this decision.

What does this mean for freedom of information in the Netherlands?

I was surprised hear that this news, which been echoed vastly at an international level, was first published as breaking news in The Independent, a British newspaper, the day after it was officially released, and only a few days later on the Dutch popular newspaper Volkskrant (link in Dutch). Also the fact that it was not particularly highlighted in print (it was issued on the 2nd or 3rd page) with no particular comments, suggests to me that there was somehow an effort on part of the Dutch press to put it all behind or to pretend normalcy .

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At Make Blog Not War, I mentioned very quickly that censorship isn’t always a matter of not publishing, or banning the release of information, or of asking for it to be taken down. A lot of censorship is covertly carried out by hiding information where you wouldn’t expect it, not giving it importance, or through misinformation, thus dampening the effect it would otherwise have. I didn’t have an example ready with me at the time. While I would stop short of alleging indirect censorship by the Dutch press, taken at face value, the above example would illustrate it well. I’d also appreciate more information on the coverage of this story in the Netherlands.

There have recently been lots of developments to this story, including the report that that a US advisory board has reversed its stance on publishing the papers and that the impact of the virus being debated here may have been exaggerated. At the same time, the US Government has moved to declare dual use guidelines for such biological research (links to PDF). Also read this Nature News article on the risks and benefits of publishing mutant flu studies.

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Just wanted to say…

I’ve been posting about censorship around the world, but there’s been an interruption.

Just wanted to say…

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This is a post for Make Blog Not War: a freedom of expression training workshop for bloggers, organized by the Internet Democracy Project.

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Perspectives on censorship: Mexico

My little survey, as I explained in my previous post, was to test what I felt, about censorship becoming our newest fad.

My questions were:

– Whether your country has a history of censorship
– Whether censorship has increased in the past decade
– My particular concern is web 2.0: blogging and social media – how have governments reacted to this?
– If you have any direct experiences of or related to censorship that you can and would like to speak about, and would not mind me publishing on my blog, please share.

The one important thing this exercise is bringing, for me, is perspective. The information reaches our ears is always biased, whether we get it from mainstream media, social media, or any other channel. My friends have always been one source that I use for mind-expanding exercises of my own, so it was natural for me to reach out to them.

Reading the different responses has been enlightening, and I will be sharing here all that I have received, from friends in different corners of the world.

The response below, from a Mexican, is one of the more detailed ones. I am yet figure out whether I will combine this with other replies from elsewhere in the world, if at all. But this is too important and interesting to sit on any longer, so here it is.

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Mexico

Does your country have a history of censorship?

Yes. In addition to the colonial era during which Mexico was closed to foreigners, there are two very strong factors that propagate a “tradition” of censorship in Mexico.

The Catholic Church has always had a strong influence in most of the country. It has lost its grip in some areas, but only lately. As the faith is pretty conservative and closed, they rather not talk about the problem. An example of its influence is the assassination of two students in a small town by a mob after the priest claimed that they were communists. This happened 40 years ago, but in many places inside the countryside, the influence hasn’t diminished and population has not become more knowledgeable since. What the Church says is the law. Funnily enough, although many people are now protestants or of other faiths, there is a general attitude that the priest, preacher, wise man is right and there is no room for dissent or other voices.

The second culprit is our political system. All of Latin America has had juntas and failed revolutions. In Mexico, we brought in a one-party system that controlled the unions, the indigenous groups, the students, the teachers… It was closer to communism than people would like to recognize.

So all of life became regulated by two systems that do not allow neither criticism nor dissent. Since the one-party system collapsed and the opposition gained access to power, we are able to publish more stuff, but it has been a bumpy road. Religious fanatics still exist in large numbers in addition to the war on drugs and corrupt politicians that behave like a mafia.

One final point – the government pays for lots of informative ads in most media. These are usually about social programs and opportunities. It makes the government one of the biggest ad clients of some magazines and newspapers so they they are kept on a leash: if you criticize too much, you lose your income :/

Has censorship increased in the past decade?

It has. There was a period during which we could joke about the president (a big no no 50 years ago) although you still couldn’t use religious images in non-religious contexts. For example, there was an artist that depicted the Virgin Mary as a working class Mexican mother. She was almost lynched and they tried to burn the piece.

The biggest problem is that we are in a state of emergency at the moment. It is so bad that in many regions, the government has lost complete control and precense. Whole towns have emigrated to other towns or even to the United States. This is because we were not ready for the war on drugs. Our police and judicial systems are obsolete, they work on the basis that they must capture and sentence anyone for a crime, but rarely solve anything; there is also lots of corruption. So these forces have enforced an enormous ‘clean-up’, and as you can imagine, it hasn’t gone well.

There was a lot of corruption in politics in the past, and the press started to flag them and their practices in the 90s. Now the press have to defend themselves with their lives from corrupt politicians and druglords. Sometimes they work together (politicians and narcos) but sometimes they don’t. Journalists have been targeted so many times in the last few years that they have begun to self-censor.

The press does not get protection by the Mexican government to practise its profession of informing the public, and is tired of loosing colleagues, leaving widows, widowers and orphans along the trail, so in some cities, it has decided to not write about the drug violence anymore. They have also decided to cut some reporting on the drug violence at the national level.

People have also become afraid and anyone criticizing anything is treated as some sort of traitor, making journalists or bloggers exposing abuses by the authorities seem particularly unpatriotic. We do not stop and think, ‘Hey, the navy killed an innocent young guy!’ but instead we think, ‘Well, they are doing his job and he must have been involved.’

There is also another type of censorship that is becoming more common. In some cities and regions where the narcos are the de facto bosses, people do not even talk about the last kidnapping or shooting in restaurants or at the beauty parlor. Everybody talks about superfluous things, because you never know who is sitting next to you;  there have been cases where people have been shot in broad daylight because he/she was commenting on the violence.

My particular concern is web 2.0: blogging and social media – how have governments reacted to this?

Not very well. In Mexico, many professional journalists fear for their lives; many have been killed and many have emigrated. One woman who exposed a governor who runs a pedophile network had to move from her city. Bloggers have less protection because they do not have an important body that supports them, not that it could help much in the current situation.

The more liberal, enlightened governors have learned to live with blogging and social media, the brutal ones are less nice. However, the worst violence directed at bloggers comes from the drug lords and governors that work with them. This may be a little confusing but there are several types of baddie governors: some are just corrupts m*therf*ckers whereas others are not only stakeholders in the drug trade, but active players.

The drug cartels are also pretty brutal and some are run by ex intelligence agents trained by the CIA, like the Zetas who used to be an elite unit. They are still elite, I can assure you that 😦

In the last year, several bloggers have been killed by the cartels, some in Cd Juárez, some in Monterrey or in Veracruz. There are lots of news about this in English language media, this one, for example.
As expected, Anonymous is also a player here and they have been also involved in the drug war by targeting those who help the drug cartels. And as you can imagine, some hackers have been targeted by the drug lords.

It is an awful struggle for power in which there is basically no rule of the law.

If you have any direct experiences of or related to censorship that you can and would like to speak about, please share.

No such experiences, but I do know people who have.

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This is a post for Make Blog Not War: a freedom of expression training workshop for bloggers, organized by the Internet Democracy Project.

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How much of a fad?

Despite broad claims that I’ve already made public, I was scratching my head, trying to figure out how much of a fad censorship really is. I decided to bother a few close friends to gather different perspectives.

I asked them:

– Whether your country has a history of censorship
– Whether censorship has increased in the past decade
– My particular concern is web 2.0: blogging and social media – how have governments reacted to this?
– If you have any direct experiences of or related to censorship that you can and would like to speak about, and would not mind me publishing on my blog, please share.

They were sent to a diverse bunch, and I received responses from people in/from Italy, Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, and the US.

Some of these are too detailed to mash up with other responses in the same post but I’m trying to edit everything to give it a structure.

I’ll post in a few days to share the wisdom.

And oh: Happy Women’s Day to everyone. Is it just me, or does Holi really kill it for the women?

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This is a post for Make Blog Not War: a freedom of expression training workshop for bloggers, organized by the Internet Democracy Project.

 

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“Censorship is the new sterilisation”

Censorship is the new sterilisation

Censorship is the new sterilisation, by Anand Philip

A friend, R, and I were having one of our heated political debates a year ago. She and I are both from developing countries and my banter with her always had the air of a wronged underdog using her freedom of speech to talk about things that she knew were almost impossible to make right. It was my only recourse, and while an onlooker may have had the impression of women fighting, we were really just making our passions heard to a compassionate ear: human to human, friend to friend, woman to woman – pure catharsis.

In these discussions, I was the younger, usually more naïve, and possibly hence, the more hopeful one. She would often have to explain to me how fashion trends varied from the 60s to the 90s as I was usually ignorant and couldn’t always tell the difference. I had my defense – I was still a young girl when satellite television came to India, and I never caught on as I came to hate television anyway, giving me an excuse for my ignorance.

One of my rants with R over a year ago was about debates in the UK on foreign aid during the recession. I was telling her about an article I agreed with in part, but was also furious about for several reasons – amongst these, my pet peeve – what I read as criticism of government spending on India’s space programme. I was discussing with her how the article showed the lack of knowledge of how technology can aid social development, and space technology in particular, as well as the other side of the coin – how it can be misused, of which Indian examples abound.

My rants led to the small matter of sterilisation, and the campaign in India in the 70s. I was discussing aid policy and development goals, expressing how the problem in distribution of food and related issues is turned into one of overpopulation, misrepresented for policy goals and responded to with quick fixes, while real, harder solutions are not considered.

Her response was, “It was the 70s, baby!”

I was confused. She told me how at the time, any government that needed to show any clout anywhere would take to sterilisation; it was ‘the in thing’.

Guns and colonisation, genetics and eugenics, nuclear physics and the atomic bomb – there’s a list over which if you do not think hard enough, has the danger to turn people on technology itself.

When the NYT reported how major technology companies were being summoned by the government to help screen content, it struck me as the newest fad. What was possibly worse was the fact that it was misrepresented as efforts to clamp down on hate speech.

One doesn’t need genius to figure it out: in economies where information is power, where do you clamp down first?

The answer’s obvious.

Everyone’s doing it, all over the world, directly or indirectly. And retaliation can range from asking for content to be taken down, to legal action, and even murder.

So that’s the newest global fad: censorship.

As I expressed this at the Make Blog not War Workshop, several of us agreed: “Censorship is the new sterilisation.”

This is no deep revelation, but perhaps it brings caution. Each of these experiments has caused damage that cannot be repaired for decades. Mara Hvistendahl’s research has uncovered how fears of overpopulation fuelled the boom in sex-selection – the result being 30- 40 million “bare branches” at the end of this decade in China alone.

I find that the trend of censorship, and especially the abetting environment in our country, where citizens are almost encouraged to take offense, must cause alarm. I’m not sure we will be able to repair the damage in decades.

Thank you Anand for putting it visually.

I live elsewhere now, and I don’t have R to rant with as often. But I know I can depend on other bloggers to add their voice to my rants. Perhaps we’ll get somewhere; even if we don’t we will at least have exercised our right to free speech – catharsis.

This is a post for Make Blog Not War: a freedom of expression training workshop for bloggers, organized by the Internet Democracy Project.

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