Do governments in the developing world censor TV and Internet?

The issue of regulating internet and television content is highly significant, given the exponential growth in the use of this medium for commercial and informational purposes across the globe.  When the internet was thrown open for commercial use during the mid 1990s, most of its content originated from theUnited States of America, making English the dominant language in the Internet.  This phenomenon was a reflection of the fact that the content was directed at a universal audience located across geo-political borders.  But, gradually, the complexion of the Internet undertook a process of change, making its content more relevant to local political and cultural conditions.  This implies that the Information and Communication Technology industry is increasing its penetration and presence in theThird World.  The flip side of this localization is that the Internet is no longer the vehicle of free-speech and expression that it once was.  The academic community is divided in its perception of these developments.  For example, while researchers like Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu argue in their book ‘Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World’ that this transformation of the cyberspace is for the better, while scholars like Milton Mueller disagree with this view.  Both sides have strong and weak points in support of their positions.  The rest of this essay will evaluate the merit of these arguments in an attempt to ascertain the level of censorship in developing nations.

 The case of Chinese government’s control over Internet content in the country is a particularly blatant example of the notion that national borders have survived in the virtual world.  The Information and Communication Technology, which aided the Chinese government to impose political order in the cyber world, has also facilitated political dissent. For instance, it is through the same medium of communication that exiled Tibetans have organized their protests and demonstrations against the authoritarianism of the Communist Party inChina(Frisby, 2002).  In the lead up to the Olympic Games inBeijingearlier this year, the Chinese authorities had a tough time dealing with the Tibetan protesters.  The power of new digital technology to facilitate legitimate political dissent is something that needs to be preserved and encouraged.  Irrespective of the fact thatTibethad traditionally been a feudal society ridden with oppression and brutality, neutral political commentators across the world agree that the Tibetan fight for liberation fromChinais not unreasonable.  If a small group of exiled Tibetans can make such valid political statements, the inclusion of Tibetans still residing in the plateau in this process might have led to substantial political changes.  Hence, theChinaexample illustrates that total censorship of Internet is not practically feasible, making it possible for citizens to participate in democratic forums and communities in the Internet (Frisby, 2002).

 The fact that issues of national sovereignty play out in the highly commercialized space of the Internet adds new complexities to censorship.  In other words, while large Internet portals such as Yahoo and Google might have submitted to the impositions laid by national governments, their profits have shot up as a result of the new opportunities for advertisement it has opened up.  Using the same technology that filters out unlawful content from geo-political entities, the websites can display advertisements targeted more relevant and more localized to the users.  In essence, companies such as Yahoo and Google don’t care an iota about freedom of speech and democracy, as long as their revenues remain impressive.  Such profiteering attitude is ethically very shallow and does not project the concept of a free Internet in good light.  Governments that are intent on censorship of the Internet are faced with this dilemma, for increased censorship mitigates commercial opportunity.  This conundrum is as true in the more advanced nations as it is in developing countries (Potter, 2006).

Moving on to the domain of Television, the censorship from the powers that be does not manifest in the blatant form that is seen in the Internet.  In contrast, the Television content in developing nations tends to go through ideological filters that are put in place.  Ideology as a sociological term has been interpreted in many different ways.  But the following is an approximate definition of the term: Any system of beliefs, values and habits that are based on a particular political or religious school of thought. Media in general and Television in particular has always been used to propagate ideologies.  Although the word “ideology” has come to carry negative connotations, the propagated ideas need not necessarily be detrimental to the well-being of the audience.  A very good example of this positive use of ideology is the British government run propaganda machinery during the First World War.  As the strength of the British army grew weak in confronting an imposing German hostility, the military administration had to resort to Conscription as a means of restoring its strength.  But a glimpse at the history of media in developing countries in the backdrop of authoritarian governments and consumerist culture will show that the positive application of ideological propaganda is an exception than the rule.

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