In The right to blog: freedom’s next frontier , Evgeny Morozov came away from Global Voices Online‘s Citizens Media Summit in Budapest with a perspective on blogging that is refreshingly free of U.S.-centric tech and political preoccupations, and grounded in truly serious social and political concerns elsewhere. Some excerpts:
|…these idealistic people did not talk much about gadgets, fashion, or campaign-financing; nor rush to praise or scorn Barack Obama or John McCain; nor fret over the latest celebrity-hunt or political trick in the style of Gawker or the Huffington Post. Instead, they got into heated discussions (often in heavily accented English) over a different set of topics: internet filtering, human-rights violations, and the future of freedom of expression.|
|This, then, was a different kind of blogger and a different order of reality. The background of many of the participants told the story: for in their countries of origin many at the Budapest gathering sustain their blogs in face of the threat or reality of arrest, intimidation and beating from the authorities. Their enemies are real, not imaginary. Their blogs are exercises in courage.|
|…Even in places with low internet penetration, blogs can still have a significant impact in creating channels to voice dissent and influence wider media networks. Kenyan bloggers, for example, have built synergistic relationships with the country’s radio journalists, who have come to rely on blogs for materials for their programmes, thus making blogs accessible (albeit indirectly) to virtually anyone in the country.|
|…The Budapest experience suggests that the movement slowly emerging on the margins of the blogosphere shares much in common with an older generation of those who sought to “speak truth to power”.|
|…The ubiquity of the internet – accessible via computers or mobile-phones in almost any corner of the planet – is being matched by the growth in explicit and implicit restrictions on free speech.|
|…The long-term balance of forces in this contest is poised. If not all governments have the time, money, or patience for systematic censorship, they may resort to an easier and cheaper way to collect a person’s email password: imprisonment and, eventually, torture. Today, the greatest threat to freedom of expression online is not web censorship but mistreatment of bloggers.|
|The Citizen Media Summit raised the idea that the equivalent of the Reporters without Borders group – a “Bloggers without Borders” – might be created to lobby for bloggers’ release from jail and right to speak freely. But would bloggers get the same protection as journalists and political prisoners; could traditional groups expand their role and make such a new organisation unnecessary? Such are the questions that western governments and many traditional human-rights organisations – as well as bloggers themselves – must answer as soon as possible.|
Blogs are journals (as I’ve said many times). As we saw at this summit, blogs in many places are about as serious as journals can get — and among the most essential of emerging institutions in civic life. So, rather than start a new borderless organization just for bloggers, how about expanding Reporters Without Borders to include bloggers as well? I’d say more about it, but I can’t get the Reporters Without Borders site rsf.org, for reporters sans frontieres) to load. Here’s the Wikipedia page. That’s where I discover that to some degree it’s already happening. Reporters sans frontières – Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents is an RSF publication with sections contributed by Dan Gillmor, Jay Rosen and Ethan Zuckerman, a co-founder of Global Voices Online.
In any case, blogging matters for the same reason journalism has always mattered. Discussions at the Citizen Media Summit highlight that fact.
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