In fictional, and not so fictional stereotypes, journalists struggle against censorship throughout the world; the blacked-out documents, silent informants, and gag ordered witnesses. Though, it is no longer constricted to paper or words at all but includes much more. The internet has become the dominant form of media and brings new dynamics to both. Censorship is a way to limit the power, choice, and education of the public ideally for the general good of the public. Internet censorship provides a kind of security, morality and objectivity. Though, freedom of expression promotes individualism, creativity, and constructive criticism. Instead of risking the craft, limited internet censorship can actually improve journalism and it’s attempts to bring information to the people.
Global Context of Internet Censorship
Both developed and developing nations are at various levels of online censorship. Freedom on the Net surveys 65 countries to decide the level of internet and digital media freedom. Determined by three categories obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user’s rights; 24% are free (0-30 points), 29% are partly free (31-60 points), and 35% are not free (61-100 points) (2016). This report shows that a countries’ internet freedom does not correlate with that countries’ development, size, internet penetration, or GDP (Freedom House, 2016). Specifically, in developing nations, there is widespread support for limiting online censorship and most claim that open access to internet is important (Pew Research Center, 2014).
Various events around the world have drawn attention to censorship as more than just a concept. In 2013, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine led to limitations of internet freedom. Roskomnadzor, a media watchdog blocked several groups from the Russian social media network, Vkontakte in the following year (PEN American Center, 2016). It didn’t stop there. Oleg Novozhenin, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Lenta.ru editor Galina Timchenko, and activist Rafis Kashapov were sentenced and charged because of their expression against the Russian government (PEN American Center, 2016; The Guardian, 2016; BBC, 2014). In 2014, the European court of justice ruled for a citizen’s right to privacy and their right to remove information from the internet (European Commission, n.d.; Court of Justice of the European Union, 2014). Anyone can request the removal of online information that is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive from various search engines (European Commission, n.d.). As with other legislation, this ruling has a reasonable balance. The removal of information is conditions, case by case, and deniable.
In China, the Great Firewall of china, officially known as The Golden Shield Project, provides a way to control the internet by IP and DNS blocking, and redirection, URL filtering as well as VPN/SSH traffic recognition (Custer, 2013). Kazakhstan is implementing a simpler version of the great firewall of china, where citizens install a “national security certificate” on their devices which allows the government access to the data (Perlroth, 2015). In 2015, Thailand proposes to implement a firewall to no avail as the Phue Thai party opposed it, claiming that, “the system would have several negative impacts, including giving those in charge increased authority to block websites, threats to freedom of speech and slowed Internet connections or even total service collapse” (“The Great Firewall of…Thailand?”, 2015). After being approved, Pakistan’s cyber crime bill, or The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2015, curtails online crime including hate speech, unsolicited marketing messages, glorifying an offence, cyber terrorism, fraud, slander, and pornography (“Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB)”, 2016). Critics of this act claim that the act has unclear and interpretable definitions, which could give authority to the government to potential limit the rights of citizens far more than security requires.
Canada is a developed country where 81% of its citizens use the internet. (ICT Facts and Figures 2016, 2016). Generally speaking, Canada doesn’t have much internet censorship though, it does have legislation for more traditional mediums which remains applicable. To start, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms lays a foundation. Specifically, it guarantees citizens the right to the freedom of expression, while being subject to reasonable limits (1982). Essentially it means that citizens can express themselves though not absolutely. Various sections can restrict this freedom in various mediums such as obscenities, false news, slander, and hate propaganda (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982).
Each of these examples show that Canada’s freedom of expression is not infinite and is usually balanced between individual freedoms and collective security. The Emergencies Act replaced The War Measures Act of 1914 (1985). This act provides the government a method to protect national security during a conflict by temporarily sacrificing individual freedoms. Interestingly, one of the restrictions of this act claim that the powers granted by the emergency act, “shall not be exercised or performed for the purpose of censoring, suppressing or controlling the publication or communication of any information regardless of its form or characteristics” (Emergencies Act, 1985). Similarly, the Security of Information Act aims to protect sensitive government information. This limits public access to information, and prohibited places, as well as criminalizes the falsifications of documents, personnel, or uniforms (Security of Information Act, 1985). Canada’s privacy laws such as federal, and provincial privacy acts protect the personal information held by governments, the right to reach that information, as well as outlining the government’s collection, use and disclosure of the information (Privacy Act, 1985). There are provincial levels of this act that specifically focus on health-related information, personal information, and freedom of information acts (“Provincial and territorial privacy laws and oversight – Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada”, 2015). These legislations direct censorship toward the internet, they however are still relevant to the content.
Effects on Journalism
Canada’s legislation is rather moderate in comparison to other countries. The legislation that limits freedom of expression that Canada has protects the people’s privacy, national security, and personal safety. It ensures that there are boundaries. The limitation of certain topics shields the public from obscene and harmful materials. Censorship provides a balance; Journalists are denied access to sensitive information without reasonable cause.
On the other hand, current Canadian legislation is moderate in terms of censorship. The internet also provides a platform to share information, research, and ideas. Journalists have relatively free access to all sorts of information within reason. An increased amount of voices and opinions improves the diversity of journalism and its audience and, provides a more holistic, realistic perception of the world. Publications are able to cover a range of topics including satire, social commentary, criticisms, minority opinions, and controversies. A broader range of topics promotes debate, thought, and awareness. It encourages engagement because they have the ability to change, criticize, and challenge things as they are.
Censorship has a place and a purpose within Canada though there are several theorists that consider limited censorship as ideal. Benjamin Constant is a leading French theorist on the principles of free speech and warns against the harms of silence. He writes, “The actions of government, we are told, bear down only on imprudent souls who provoke them. The man who resigns himself and keeps silent is always safe. Reassured by this worthless and specious argument, we do not protest against the oppressors… Eyes to the ground, each person walks in silence the narrow path leading him safely to the tomb” (Constant, Hofmann, & O’Keeffe, 2003).
John Stuart Mill claims, “if all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind” (Mill 1978, 16). John Milton, a writer during the 1600s described the importance of expression, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties” (Milton, 1927). The current Canadian legislation is balanced between internet expression and internet censorship, similar to principles suggested by John Stuart Mill. Mill’s Harm Principle aims to balance the rights and security contradict (Mill 1978). The Harm Principle claims that the only reason to censor someone “against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (Mill 1978, 9). This allows the interests of both Canadian citizens and society to be protected. Topics and content are balanced supporting democratic ideals of security and expression. The access of information is open but reasonably regulated. Within Canada, journalism isn’t hindered because of the country’s moderate censorship regulations.
Regarding journalism, censorship on the internet is beneficial when its authority is limited. This is a controversial topic with such vastly different responses throughout the world because it is the balance between two vital practices. Security is what keeps countries from anarchy, while freedom of expression saves them from a dictatorship. Censorship isn’t always an antagonist to the press, nor should it be. It can help protect the values that journalism holds dear without undermining its efforts for a democratic, truthful, and open society. Canada’s internet censorship benefits journalism and provides opportunists for it to flourish.
BBC, (2014). Russia Lenta.ru editor Timchenko fired in Ukraine row. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26543464
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.
Constant, B., Hofmann, E., & O’Keeffe, D. (2003). Principles of politics applicable to all governments (1st ed.). Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund.
Court of Justice of the European Union, (2014). An internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties. Retrieved from http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-05/cp140070en.pdf
Custer, C. (2013). How the Great Firewall of China Works. TechInAsia. Retrieved from https://www.techinasia.com/great-firewall-china-works-infographic
Emergencies Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. 22 (4th Supp.)
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Perlroth, N. (2015). Kazakhstan Moves to Tighten Control of Internet Traffic. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/03/kazakhstan-moves-to-tighten control-of-internet-traffic/?_r=3&mtrref=undefined
Pew Research Center. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/03/19/emerging and-developing-nations-want-freedom-on-the-internet/
Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB). (2016). Digital Rights Foundation. Retrieved 27 November 2016, from http://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/wp content/uploads/2016/08/PECB2016.pdf
Privacy Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. P-21
Provincial and territorial privacy laws and oversight – Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. (2015). Priv.gc.ca. Retrieved 27 November 2016, from https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/about-the-opc/what-we-do/provincial-and-territorial collaboration/provincial-and-territorial-privacy-laws-and-oversight/
Security of Information Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. O-5
The Great Firewall of…Thailand? (2015). Golden Frog. Retrieved from https://www.goldenfrog.com/blog/the-great-firewall-of-thailand
The Guardian, (2016). Russia censors media by blocking websites and popular blog. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/14/russia-bans-alexei-navalny-blog opposition-news-websites