In the age of the internet, censorship has acquired a new face

MEDIA MATTERS

Abandon the naive thought that, with the internet and free flow of information, governments are retreating from repression of the media. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) new report shows that governments, including “democratic” ones, have found other ways to try to control information.

The CPJ’s World Press Freedom Report 2017, released ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3 and titled The New Face of Censorship, also shows that violence against journalists has spiked.

Censorship is now complex and no longer the crude practices of the past when newspapers were banned and editors thrown in jail in the manner of October 19 1977, South Africa’s Black Wednesday.

The latest CPJ report spells out how “new information technologies, for example, the global, interconnected internet; social media platforms; and smartphones with cameras were supposed to make censorship obsolete”. Instead, they have made it more complicated. Everyone is grappling with the same problems albeit in different contexts.

The report breaks the myth that the internet is free and can’t be controlled. Governments are using suppressing “hate speech” to suppress other information that shows them up.

The new technologies that also allow criminal and militant groups to bypass the media and speak directly to the public have made the world exceptionally dangerous for journalists reporting from conflict zones, according to the editor of the report, Joel Simon, who is the executive director of the CPJ.

In Simon’s book, The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, the strategies to control and manage information fall into three broad categories: repression 2.0, masked political control and technology capture.

In South Africa we are seeing technology capture at the SABC, with the battle for control over broadcasting. This is not a new story — the National Party controlled it prior to democracy. But now we are seeing ownership being used to do this, with TV channel ANN7 dedicated to promoting President Jacob Zuma and his political faction.

We are also experiencing increased electronic surveillance of cellphones and emails by the state security agency, journalists report.

Beyond the new, old ways of censorship still persist. For example, The New Face of Censorship report says:

• Violence against journalists has increased, with 48 journalists killed in 2016 and eight killed so far this year. The worst country listed is Mexico, followed by Syria and Iraq. The deadliest countries for journalists in 2016 were Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The most dangerous beats were war, politics and crime.

• In Turkey, 19 journalists were jailed in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown.

• In Thailand, a TV channel was suspended.

• In Venezuela, the government recently suspended the broadcasting of CNN.

• In Brazil, the judiciary appears to be in cahoots with government: a judge ordered the removal from websites of a story about the Brazilian president’s wife.

• In China, journalists can and have been charged with, and jailed for, “inciting separatism” if they are caught talking to foreign media. All journalists’ work goes through the government ministry in charge of media. So censorship is part of life in China.

• And in the United States, nine media outlets were denied access to an informal White House press secretary briefing. Reporters in the US are harassed by online trolls, set by the precedent of the president, who regularly vilifies journalists.

• In South Africa, the high court in Pretoria ruled in December that criminal defamation is constitutional, which is a problem for freedom of expression. It was also noted that journalists are regularly attacked while covering protests.

This is the depressing scenario in which journalists operate around the world, minus one or two northern European countries such as Finland, which topped the World Press Freedom Index in 2016 for the seventh year in a row.

What is the best way to fight this, with a decreasing pool of professional journalists who are faced with fake news?

Stick with fact-based journalism. Leave opinion to the opinionistas, and mark it clearly on the comment and analysis pages. Check facts, check contributors and have tight systems in place to avoid damage to brands by hackery and fakery. When in doubt, refer to the Press Code on conflict of interest, right to reply and hate speech — although what the latter is appears to be up for grabs.

Glenda Daniels is a senior lecturer in media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Glenda Daniels
Guest Author
Advertisting

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world