Internet Censorship Concern for Businesses as well as Activists

By David Anthony Denny
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Internet censorship applies to economic as well as political topics and can have serious consequences for businesses, says Julien Pain, a French journalist and a member of Reporters Without Borders.

Pain participated May 10 in a USINFO Webchat May 10 sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs. The webchat was the second in a series of Democracy Dialogues on press freedom.

"Markets require information for investment and other decisions," Pain said. "And in countries such as China, how can you trust news media that are censored directly by the authorities?  How can you get information about the level of corruption, about the problems faced by the Chinese economy?"

According to Pain, the Chinese government recently censored a French Web site because the site had cautioned that investing in China could be risky and had alerted French companies to possible problems for business entrepreneurs.

Pain said he believes the business community does not realize the importance of supporting free speech. Too many businesses are overly concerned with pleasing governments, even ones with strong censorship like China, to get access to markets, he said.

However, "Internet censorship should not only be a concern for human rights activists, but also for anybody who's planning to do business in countries which censor the [Internet]." Pain said.

Even bloggers - authors of online journals - who write about economic matters can find themselves subject to government censorship, Pain said. At the same time, there are countries where bloggers enjoy more independence and provide less-censored information than do traditional, professional journalists, he said.

"So who's the real journalist then? The one who has a press card, or the blogger who [has] another job but takes risks by publishing information which is not covered by mainstream media?" Pain asked.

According to Pain, blogs can be important sources of information for journalists. He said bloggers in Egypt were the first "to prove acts of torture committed by the security forces" and said "all media now monitor what's being reported on blogs."  This practice "can even be a problem," because media outlets "tend to rely on the Internet instead of sending people on the ground to investigate," he said.

For details, see a transcript of the webchat and Democracy Dialogues.

Articles about the phenomenon of bloggers and other new forms of media can be found in the USINFO eJournalUSA Media Emerging.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Internet Freedom.