Free Speech

by Bas Grasmayer

Filed Under:
censorship, tunisia

Tunisian State Secretary Says Censorship Is Fine Because The West Does It Too

from the being-a-rolemodel dept

This weekend we came across a post by Karin Kosina which highlighted the problem in saying that sometimes it's okay to 'filter' (censor) certain websites.

"Tunisian state secretary Sami Zaoui just announced (mirror) that they will keep blocking websites that are "against decency, contain violent elements or incite to hate". When criticised that this is inacceptable in a democracy, he responded (mirror): "Wrong! Even the countries that are most evolved when it comes to freedom block terrorist sites"."

In the case of Tunisia, which just had a revolution or perhaps is still in the process of a revolution, it becomes immediately clear what the problem with such filtering is. Basically, the government is keeping a tool in place which has been used to silence critics in the past. Also, the conditions for which websites are censored are quite vague. Inciting hate and containing violent elements seem quite clear, but as we've seen in Turkey, such conditions can easily be stretched and that's without even taking the 'decency' condition into consideration.

Both the US and the EU are obviously failing to be a rolemodel when they should be. Many politicians in the EU have embraced the idea of an internet filter to block child pornography. As for the US, they could be seen seizing domain names of 'rogue websites'. On the one hand, politicians of the west love talking about the principles of freedom, but on the other hand they hate to actually live up to their own standards when something like WikiLeaks or a music blog comes along. The problems of this for the US and the EU have been discussed here in detail before.

What such censorship also does, is create a dangerous precedent, because it allows for repressive governments to create excuses for censorship. This is to be expected, and we've predicted similar things in the past. If Western countries are really serious about stopping internet censorship (and they're probably not that serious), they need to actually learn to live up to that ideal. Otherwise, we're going to see more and more state-supported censorship defended by the fact that Western nations are just as bad.

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  1. icon
    Bas Grasmayer (profile), 25 Jan 2011 @ 12:32pm

    Re: discussion over the word censorship

    First of all, everyone is pointing their finger at Mike, but he's not the one that wrote this particular article.

    Secondly, I use the word censorship very carefully and with principle. To me, censorship is blocking the distribution of particular information (or erasing this information altogether) for some specific purpose. Such a purpose might be to save industries which are unable to sustain themselves due to technological developments, it might be to prevent people stirring up hate (which is why Mein Kampf is banned in many countries), but it might also be to silence political opposition or human rights advocates.

    So there's my definition of censorship. Maybe it will help you understand the way I try to bring to light certain issues regarding this topic, such as the above article. Personally, I think there is no such thing as 'good censorship', since it blocks the free expression of thought.

    I think it is very important that we live in a world in which we can all express our ideas, no matter how extreme. This is better than forcing people with extreme views into isolation, which only radicalises them. It's better that we as a society are aware, than unaware of such thoughts.

    Well, and you can guess what my feelings are when it comes to censoring for saving out-dated industries or to prevent whistle-blowing.

    I have much more to say about this, so if anyone wants to take a shot... do your thing. Let's have a good discussion :-)

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