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Censor and Sensibility

Most Western journalists fight back when governments threaten their ability to gather the information they need. Some have gone to jail to protect the identities of anonymous sources and whistleblowers, or have sued governments that deny them access to crucial documents. Alas, many journalists seem far more willing to fight over their right to gather news than to battle for their right to publish and broadcast the results of their reporting freely. Indeed, Western journalists and news organizations seem to accept as a fact of life censorship within countries that routinely control the media.

Acquiescing to such censorship might have been necessary when printing presses, delivery trucks, news kiosks, or transmission towers were the only way to get printed publications or broadcast programs to news consumers. But Internet publishing offers a new – and potentially lucrative – opportunity for the distribution of uncensored information.

Such freedom is not automatic, because even the Internet’s inherent openness can be largely defeated by assiduous government filtering and surveillance. However, in recent years, sustained research into countermeasures against such third-party interference in Internet communications has begun to add a new factor. The bulk of this research has not been conducted in university labs or corporate R&D facilities, but spontaneously by teenagers, who use it to share copyrighted music with one another without paying for it.

Western media outlets have covered this story with great interest, yet apparently without realizing that these peer-to-peer technologies have the potential to de-censor the news for more people in countries like China, where any online content that runs counter to the Chinese Communist Party’s current line risks falling victim to the “Great Firewall” of censorship. Peer-to-peer technologies make filtering more difficult, because they put nearly any consumer of information into the process of transmitting it.