Why Internet Censorship Should Worry Media

May 21st, 2010 | By | Category: Censorship

CensorshipThe judiciary’s move to unilaterally block access to certain websites is a concern for Pakistan’s freedom of the press. While I do not condone blasphemy or intentionally provocative messages, the ability of a court to issue a blanket order of censorship to an entire media outlet is cause for worry.

This blog has been from its start dedicated to correcting misinformation in the media. Some of this misinformation is the result of laziness on the part of journalists who are too comfortable in their own lives to do the hard work of research that goes into proper reporting. Other misinformation appears to be more likely the work of political operatives who are trying to use the media for their own ends.

I and my fellow bloggers on Pakistan Media Watch will continue to write posts that point out the mistakes of journalists and news organizations because we believe in the old saying that “the best antidote is sunshine.” Information and education are the building blocks of a free democracy. Exposing misinformation and political propaganda is the best way to counter its effectiveness.

While we are regular critics of journalists like Shireen Mazari, Ansar Abbasi, Shaheen Sehbai, etc. etc. we do not call for them to be censored. Actually, we believe that poor reporting only serves to undermine those responsible when it is corrected publicly. Of course, they are free to say what they want, even if it is nonsense.

The ongoing Internet censorship by the courts is worrisome because it is a good example of a ‘slippery slope’ of censorship. First, the court ordered that Facebook be blocked until the end of the month because of a stupid page on the website. Then, YouTube was blocked for having offensive content. Next, Wikipedia was blocked for the same reason. Today, Dawn reports that access to these websites may not be temporary after all.

Pakistan acknowledged the ”suffering” caused by its bans on Facebook and YouTube, but said it would only consider restoring the websites if they take down pages considered offensive to Islam, the information technology ministry said Friday.

So, who will be next? And who will be the judge of what is ‘offensive to Islam’?

From the moment that it is decided to be okay to block access to one website for being offensive, where do you draw the line? Certainly there are some Jamaatis who will say that Nadeem Paracha is offensive to them. There are plenty of liberals who find Ahmed Quraishi quite offensive as well.

The truth is, such an unchecked power of censorship is too easily open to abuse. Today we may be blocking access to some cartoons under the justification of anti-blasphemy laws. But tomorrow it might be a newspaper or TV station that is banned for the same justification.

Freedom of the media is a vital part of our democracy. That means even allowing the media the freedom to be wrong. The alternative may sound good at first, but it always ends up the same – and that is no freedom at all.

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