Cybersociology Magazine: Issue Five

Internet Against Censorship: by Drazen Pantic, Head of OpenNet, Radio B92's Internet department in Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia


Beograd, 4-5. December, 1998.

The Endless Struggle

When governments talk about freedom of expression on the Internet, they talk about a minimal set of rights to be preserved while looking to regulate everything else. And the more repressive the government, the leaner that set rights. When Internet libertarians discuss the same topic they speak about a minimal set of restrictions to be met by the media in order not to be crushed by some anonymous, repressive government official.

This struggle goes on every day when some remote listener tunes in to B92 news via the Internet, or satellite, or the ANEM network, despite the fact that the radio itself has a licence which allows it a range of just a few blocks of the city. Or when a student from Burma sends e-mail with the latest news, or when reporters from Kosovo carry DVD cameras and send objective, but surreptitiously taped footage from the ground.

The new media and the new information technologies of the Internet are at the forefront of the struggle against censorship and intimidation of broadcasters. The example of B92 and ANEM shows that information does reach its audience and that new technologies are an unparalleled tool for that task. And the more the regime tries to suppress the free flow of information, the more the new media techniques demonstrate their ability to overcome suppression. When, for instance, the regime closes down radio stations in the ANEM network in Serbia, the program of that station still makes its way to the listeners. The station simply uploads its new broadcasts to one of OpenNet's Internet servers as a RealAudio clip which is then converted back to audio signal and sent via satellite back to the ANEM network. This kind of solidarity in the creative use of new technologies gives the vulnerable network great strength and stability in the endless struggle of David and Goliath.

Global and Local

One of the key elements for activists using the Internet is the ability to immediately disseminate information world-wide. The very moment the government jammed the signal of Radio B92 in 1996, the international community was alerted. And conversely whenever and wherever around the world there is suppression of a radio or television station, ANEM is ready to react instantly in defence of endangered media. The Internet can serve as a tool to ask for help and support, but it can also itself be a means of putting pressure on those who violate the right to freedom of expression.

The distinction between local and global is no longer so clear cut. Concrete activities obviously still take place on a local level, but they are no longer restricted to the local area. On the other hand, global actions like a campaign against racism or the defence of the rights of minorities or media world-wide are broadcast through the Internet world wide as will as within the local community of users of an ISP.

The example of ANEM and its experience has become well known to organisations, NGOs and governments throughout the world. Their daily presence on the Internet and their sharing of strategies with other organisations through the Internet have made B92 and ANEM a recognised source of expertise in the field of new media. There are similar examples of success with other new media. Thus we can see the Internet as a repository for strategies in new and classical media practice or, more generally, as promoting the civil society world wide.

The Virtualisation of the Repressive Regime

The experience of B92 and ANEM in the fight against censorship has redefined the word "virtual" in the social context. B92 with its listeners and OpenNet with the users of its Internet services were once small virtual communities within a hostile environment. But by the imaginative use of the Internet and satellite technology B92 has managed to increase the range and impact of the information it broadcasts far beyond its actual physical reach. From a small local radio with great impact, B92 has become a globally accessible media outlet, retaining and increasing its impact. On the other hand the suppressive activities of the regime have not had an immediate destructive effect on the radio, but rather transformed the regime's hostility into virtual aggression.

OpenNet's Response to the New Wave of Media Repression in Serbia

The regime's most recent campaign against the independent media has added new things to the existing set of repressive tools. Specifically, Internet users and owners of satellite dishes are now being focused on by lawmakers. It was announced that both groups would be taxed for being able to access independent and uncensored information, whether via satellite or Internet. While satellite owners can only be traced by roof surveillance, Internet users are registered with their providers. It then becomes obvious that the regime is aiming for the pacification and censorship of Internet providers' servers and wires.

He re is a list of some of the responses to this new repressive wave:



Editor Note: Drazen Pantic had originally planned to contribute a "relatively long article about streaming media, TV and new technologies in the remote reporting." On Tuesday, 23 March 1999, just 24 hours before NATO bombing began in Serbia, Drazen reported that the station's editor-in- chief, Veran Matic, had been arrested and taken away for interrogation. Other proponents of freedom of expression in Yugoslavia are presumably in danger as well. Below is the original text of Drazen's email which has been seen by thousands of people around the World and which has been widely reported within the mainstream media:

From: Drazen Pantic [mailto:drazen@opennet.org]

Sent: Wednesday, March 24, 1999 4:00 PM

To: felipe@xs4all.nl

Subject: Re: (fwd)

Importance: High

Tonight at 2:50a.m. two technicians from the Federal Ministry for Telecommunications accompanied by 10 policemen entered the premises of B-92 and ordered the immediate closing of the radio. Police ordered all journalists to step back from their computers and mobile phones.

When Veran Matic, editor in chief, entered the radio, police took him into custody without any explanation. He has not returned since.

<end message>


For more reports from Serbia see <http://www.eGroups.com/list/kosovo-reports/>, <http://www.salonmagazine.com/news/1999/03/25newsc.html>, and <http://www.radio21.net>


 

Drazen Pantic (drazen@opennet.org), is a mathematics professor at the University of Belgrade and the Director of Opennet, the internet service of the independent B-92 (http://www.b92.net) radio station in Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia. He frequently gives presenations around the World about the work of B-92 and Opennet. You can read another article by Drazen, "Internet in Serbia: From Dark Side of the Moon to the Interne tRevolution" in the webzine, First Monday (http://firstmonday.dk/issues/issue2_4/pantic/ )

 

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