Media censorship

24 05 2007

Part of the Internet’s appeal must surely come from its unauthorised, unofficial nature.  It blurred the line between consumer culture and producers – now anyone can have their say online.

Or can they?  According to this article, the Internet is not as uncensored as some people would have you believe.  You may have heard of the so-called “Great Firewall of China“, but did you know that other countries, including Burma (or, as the Burmese government call it, Myanmar), Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Iran are all responsible for varying degrees of Internet filtering?  Chinese censorship has met with particular controversy for the banning of information relating to certain religions and political movements, in spite of accusations of discrimination.  They also, IMHO worryingly, block references to massacres, democracy, genocide, the Dalai Lama, human rights, the 4th of June and even the word “evil”.  Certain websites are banned, including this one; you can view a list on Wikipedia.

That is not to say that countries like the UK and the USA are not responsible for censorship.  However, here restrictions tend to be imposed for copyright reasons, rather than to protect people from learning about the slave trade or nuclear warfare.  Independant journalist and BBC commentator Bill Thompson argues that the real risk is not that our governments will decide to emulate China and seal us in a little protective bubble, but that Internet companies become increasingly restrictive on what we can and can’t say online.  He points out the filtering measures taken by social networking sites like Bebo and MySpace.

Of course, we in the UK don’t legally have freedom of speech anyway, (wait for it, I do intend to link this back to TV!) because we are prevented from making statements that are defamatory or incite religious or racial hatred.  Which brings us neatly to television.  Well, Celebrity Big Brother.

Still reading this?  OK, so unless you were living in a cave over the past year, you must have heard of the Celebrity Big Brother controversy, where some rather ignorant comments by a z-list “celebrity” turned a bad reality show into an international crisis.  We in the UK might not see quite why so much fuss is being made about a bunch of bullying idiots, but in India Shilpa Shetty is a national heroine, so they’ve taken Jade Goody’s words as a personal insult.

Media watchdog Ofcom have declared Channel 4 to have made “serious editorial misjudgements”.  They take particular objection to broadcast footage of Goody’s now-infamous “Shilpa Poppadom” remark, Danielle Lloyd telling Shetty to F-off home, and the complaints about Shetty’s cooking (although surely the latter is merely a cultural difference, since Indian food is an acquired taste, especially if you’re used to bland English cuisine).  Channel 4 Chief Executive Andy Duncan has been called to resign.

Ironically, all the outrage against Goody’s stupid remarks has prompted generalisation about “white trash” and “chavs”, which are examples of classism.  Can’t people get anything right?  But I’m going off topic again.

Big Brother fans can look forward to a new series of Big Brother in a topsy-turvy themed house (featuring half a rubber chicken in formaldehyde, a parody of Damien Hirst), while the rest of us can pray that the media forget about Celebrity Big Brother and find some actual news to report.

I suggest an article on the real “Big Brother”s out there – the ones who control our computers…


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