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Media

In our increasingly digital times, freedom of expression may look like one of the positive beneficiaries of our ever more interconnected world. Countries like China or Iran build firewalls and employ small armies of censors and snoopers in determined attempts to keep their bit of the internet controlled and uncritical of their ruling elites. But with social media, blogs, citizen journalism, and ever greater amounts of news on a diverse and expanding range of sites, information is shared across borders and goes around censors with greater ease than ever before. Yet online and off, free speech still needs defending from those in power who would like to control information, limit criticism or snoop widely across people and populations. And it would be a mistake to think the free speech attackers are only the obvious bad guys like China, Iran or North Korea.

When journalists at the Southern Weekly newspaper in China’s Guangdong province went on strike last week against a local censor, Chinese citizens and the international media alike sat up and took notice. Microblogs amplified the journalists’ demands and helped make the incident a national topic of debate. Foreign commentators drew parallels to 1989, suggesting this could be the start of bigger protests. But the deal quickly reached between Communist Party officials and the striking journalists shows that the system of media control is still very resilient.

The lightning growth of Chinese media is part of the dramatic expansion of the presence of Chinese diplomats, peacekeepers, commercial actors (state-owned or private) and ordinary citizens that has been transforming the African continent in the last 10-15 years.

Before joining the first cohort of students at the Blavatnik School of Government, I worked as a journalist for state-owned China Central Television, the biggest media outlet in China. Before that I spent four years working as a reporter and anchor for the Beijing Television Station, the local outlet for China’s capital city, also owned and operated by the government. Based on this, if I’m asked, about a single measure would strengthen democracy in my home country, I would firstly respond that you have to have more than one measure to reach that goal. However, if I can only choose one, I would definitely vote for free speech and an independent media.

I am a Muslim and I condemn the rampant and widespread violent protests over a badly made anti-Islamic film. I believe one needs to have a very high bar when it comes to getting offended. If everything is offensive to you, then it is perceived that something is wrong with you. The Indian government proved it recently with its tantrum against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi’s mediocre caricatures. Now a section of radical Muslims is proving it over an insignificant film. I saw “Innocence of Muslims” a couple of days ago on YouTube. It is a laughable attempt at insulting Muslims and sooner rather than later would have met its fate at the hands of a Ricky Gervais or a Jay Leno. …

  In an Op Ed in last weekend’s Ottawa Citizen, I commented on the Catch 22 situation the UK government now finds itself in with respect to Julian Assange. Earlier this week, the Foreign Minister of Ecuador, Ricardo Patino, announced his government’s decision to provide ‘diplomatic asylum’ to the founder of the Wikileaks website, who took up residence in the embassy in mid June to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning related to alleged sexual offences. In one sense, nothing has changed. British Foreign Secretary William Hague maintained yesterday that despite the decision of officials in Quito (the Ecuadorean capitol) to grant asylum, the UK will not allow Mr. Assange safe passage to Ecuador. He also rightly pointed out that the …

The key fault lines dividing the interim Libyan central government from both the militias and the international community are starkly illustrated in the ongoing saga surrounding the detention of four International Criminal Court (ICC) officials in Libya since June 7th. Among the detainees, Melinda Taylor has received the brunt of media attention, because she is a young and attractive Australian lawyer who was assigned by the ICC to represent the deposed dictator’s son, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi. She is currently being held captive by Zintani militiamen for ‘spying’.  She allegedly possessed a digital pen camera and passed her client encrypted messages from Mohammad Ismael — a former crony of Saif’s, wanted for war crimes. It will likely be impossible for the …

In April 2011, in a symbolic move, Budapest’s Republic Square was renamed after the late Pope John-Paul II. This was one of the many consequences of the electoral victory of the Fidesz Party and its Christian Democrat allies a year earlier. The winners immediately called it a ‘revolution at the voting booths’. With the support of 53 percent of voters, the alliance won 67 percent majority in parliament, and soon began to colonise the public sphere in an attempt to embed its Christian, nationalist and conservative values. By 2012, the new government has fundamentally reshaped Hungary’s media landscape. Throughout the 2000s, Freedom House listed Hungary amongst other ‘free press’ countries, with scores meeting the regional average. Yet for 2011, Hungary was …