Freedom of Expression

27th July 2016
Daisy Stapley-Bunten


Freedom of expression vs. the black holes of the internet.





Human Rights Act 1998: Schedule 1: Part 1: Article 10

Freedom of Expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers…(

‘Freedom of Expression’: taken for granted in the UK, and a term used rather more figuratively than to actually invoke a human right. Though it’s true you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, in this case it’s perhaps an understatement. Whilst people complain that they never hear any ‘good news’ when they listen to the 6 o’ clock news, at least Article 10 enables the public the right to hear news at all, and allows freedom of the press. So in the Age of the Internet, and in a wireless world, how is it that there are black holes in the IoT?

‘The Great Firewall’ 

Recent news of China’s media crackdown, which has banned news reporting on the internet, drastically stresses the suppression of civil liberties, when a country with a population of 1.57 billion is denied freedom of expression.

The Cyberspace Administration of China has ‘imposed the ban on several major news portals, including and NetEase’, Bloomberg reports. This isn’t to say that the internet will be bereft of all news; news portals can publish reports from state-controlled sources. Well that’s good then.

The Cyberspace Administration of China website has a different slant on this. Aside from the homepage, the website cannot be accessed without a registration of personal details, and features the Chinese President Xi Pinjing’s face repeatedly. Headlines take a sugar-coated approach to its state control, such as ‘One of China’s top economic planners said in Bejing Thursday that China’s recent regulatory measures on the Internet are in line with international practices.’ True enough, as long as these ‘international practices’ aren’t ‘human rights’.

Mark ‘Suck-up-berg’
The Facebook Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg visited Beijing in March 2016, to attend an economic forum, and in renewed efforts to introduce Facebook to the country that has banned it since 2008/9. In an effort to charm Chinese officials, Zuckerberg went for a jog through Tiananmen Square without an air-filtering air mask, despite the air pollution in Beijing being 15 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

Mark Zuckerberg

Image: Facebook Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg goes for a jog in the smog. “Kissing up?” commented Tom Wang, a Chinese environmentalist, reported by The Guardian.

Despite Zuckerberg’s efforts to tap into a gold-mine of a market (the entire Chinese population), if the social network giant were to convince Chinese officials, he would not be breaking through ‘The Great Firewall’, more like sneaking over it and playing by the Chinese ‘governance system’ rules over its internet. But it’s not just China.

Whist China may be in the media spotlight for the lack of its own original media coverage, it is not the only country to deny freedom of expression to its citizens.

Internet censorship: Top 10 worst countries
Source: CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), 2015

1. Eritrea

  • Only state media distributes news
  • The most jailed journalists in Africa
  • Signal jamming and tight online control run by the sole state-run telecommunications company, EriTel
  • Less than 1% of the population goes online

2. North Korea

  • Majority of news comes from official Korean Central News Agency
  • Internet restricted to political elite
  • Cell phones are banned

3. Saudi Arabia

  • Amendments to press law in 2011 punishes publications of anything critical of sharia, state interests or promotes foreign interests

4. Ethiopia 

  • Arrests of journalists and intimidation of printing and distribution companies
  • • No independent broadcasts
  • • State-controlled telecommunications company Ethio Telecom is the sole Internet provider

5. Azerbaijan

  • International broadcasters are barred or their satellite signal jammed
  • Critical print outlets subject to harassment
  • Online speech is subject to self-censorship due to a criminal defamation law that carries a six-month prison sentence
  • News and social media websites blocked arbitrarily
  • Journalists jailed or harassed

6. Vietnam

  • No privately held print or broadcast outlets
  • All media outlets must serve as ‘the mouthpiece of Party organisations’
  • Forbidden topics in the media
  • One of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, with at least 16 behind bars
  • September 2013: new law extended state censorship to social media platforms
  • ‘Authorities use Article 285, the anti-state law that vaguely criminalises “abusing democratic freedoms,” to threaten and prosecute independent bloggers... which allows for seven-year prison sentences.’

7. Iran

  • Mass and arbitrary detention to silence dissenters
  • 2009: world’s leading jailer of journalists
  • Iranian authorities block millions of websites, including news and social networking sites
  • Frequently jams satellite signals

8. China

  • Among the top three jailers of journalists in the world
  • ‘Document 9, a secret white paper dated April 22, 2014, which was widely leaked online and to the international press,…made it clear that the role of the media is to support the party’s unilateral rule’
  • Internet censorship over country’s 642 million Internet users

Brick Wall

Image: The Chinese people hit a brick wall when try to search for Facebook.

9. Myanmar

  • 2012: an end to more than four decades of pre-publication censorship
  • Publications must be registered under the law
  • National security-related laws are used to threaten and imprison journalists

10. Cuba

  • Print and broadcast media wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state
  • Internet service providers ordered to block objectionable content
  • Government targets critical journalists through harassment, surveillance and short-term detentions
  • Visas for international journalists are granted selectively by officials

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