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Censorship And The Media. Will AI Help?

Written by: Lucia Dore, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Nowadays, viewers and readers of the media are subject to censorship of the news and not always censorship by governments. Self-censorship is common, especially in societies that believe they allow “freedom of speech”. Self-censorship certainly undermines this.


Limiting the freedom to speak up often sets a dangerous precedent.

The ongoing war in Ukraine and the Covid pandemic have highlighted the issues around censorship. Although much of the news is government-censored, to varying degrees, whether it is by Russia, Ukraine, or other Western news outlets, self-censorship also comes into play. There has also been the COVID pandemic, and the many “conspiracy” theories it has spawned. In both cases, governments are controlling the narrative.


In most Western societies where there is supposedly “press freedom” journalists, whether from a news outlet or a citizen journalist, are encouraged to write what they feel is the “truth”. But this only goes so far. Usually, they do not write all that they want to, for fear of the consequences.


Journalists must be aware of what is acceptable in the society they are reporting in, and what is not. For example, there is the need to be aware of “woke” culture, transgender and environmental issues in many Western countries. And, of course, there is always the fear of committing libel. The likelihood of a news outlet being sued is greater in some countries than in others.


News outlets not only consider the views of certain readers, but they often also consider the views of those with whom they do business, such as advertisers or sponsors. This can lead to a bias in news coverage, making it hard for readers to know what is true and what is not.


When we talk about self-censorship, what do we mean? Put simply, it’s when the controllers of news outlets, or sometimes individual journalists, decide what can, and should, be said or written. Decisions are often based on fear the fear of writing something that is unacceptable to some parts of society. The consequences of writing something or making certain statements could be dire. Journalists must decide whether to write the truth and suffer the consequences, no matter how bad they are ‒ which may include losing their job or any promotion prospects ‒ or to say nothing.


Unfortunately, it is not only journalists that are suffering from a fear of saying the wrong things, but also the public, who are becoming increasingly cautious. People fear expressing their views on many subjects, because they are frightened of the backlash, often on social media.


In some countries, the fear of expressing opinions can have severe consequences. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Vietnam people are imprisoned and often killed for not towing the government line.


As an example of what can happen if you don’t say what the government wants you to, Saudi Arabia executed 81 men in early March, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian national. According to Al Jazeera, quoting the state news agency Saudi Press Agency, the charges included “allegiance to foreign terrorist organizations” and holding “deviant beliefs”.


This was the largest known mass execution carried out in the country in its modern history, surpassing the 67 executions reported in 2021 and the 27 in 2020.


Another example is Russia. Recently, it arrested about 4,000 protesters for speaking out against the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Certainly, this is not freedom of speech.


I was a journalist based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates for 8.5 years, and there is certainly censorship in that country and across the region. We were not only told what to write but a photo of the Ruler had to be placed in the correct place on the front page. However, the rules of what could be said or written were not set down so self-censorship came into play. I believe it would be easier if they were prescriptive.


When I lived in Vietnam, the BBC, among other news outlets, were banned and it paid not to engage with social media. There were also political rallies on a Saturday outside my house, but I did not understand what was said, because my knowledge of the Vietnamese language was too poor.


According to a survey carried out by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which counts the number of journalists in jail, 2021 was “especially bleak for defenders of press freedom”. Some 293 journalists, most of whom were men, were put in jail, up from 280 in 2020. Another 24 were killed because of their coverage and another 18 died, but whether they were direct targets is unclear.


The survey also shows that China remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row with 50 behind bars, which includes some people from Hong Kong. Myanmar rose to second place, after incarcerating no journalists in the previous year. This is after the media crackdown that followed its military coup in February last year. Egypt, Vietnam, and Belarus, respectively, were in the top five.


Turkey once jailed more journalists than anywhere else in the world, but CPJ now ranks it as number six, “after releasing 20 prisoners in the last year”. It also notes that Saudi Arabia released 10 prisoners in 2021 so that it is no longer in the top five offenders.


And although Saudi Arabia is no longer ranked in the top five countries for harassing journalists, many have probably chosen to be silent following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi’s in 2018, along with several new detentions in 2019. And there was of course there was a recent spate of killings cited above.


Iran also does not feature in the list compiled by CPJ. However, its track record of jailing journalists or dissidents is not good. Reporters without borders (RSF) say that Iran is one of the most repressive countries for journalists. Since 1979, at least 860 journalists and citizen-journalists have been prosecuted, arrested, imprisoned and in some cases executed, it says. So far, one journalist has been killed there, according to RSF. And in January this year, three Iranian journalists were transferred to a prison known for mistreating inmates.


CPJ also notes that in addition, authoritarian leaders are increasingly finding more sophisticated ways to block independent reporters and outlets notably internet shutdowns and increased surveillance through high-tech spyware than keeping them behind bars.


It also notes an important trend “a growing intolerance of independent reporting”.


But prisoner numbers are not always a good measure of press freedom. Governments in all countries are showing a “growing intolerance of independent reporting,” the CPJ says. Turkey’s crackdown after a failed coup attempt in 2016 effectively eradicated the country’s mainstream media and prompted many journalists to leave the profession. Turkey’s prison count is also declining as the government allows more journalists out on parole to await trial or appeal outcomes.


I was recently on a panel and I was asked to discuss artificial intelligence and the media.


Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Lucia Dore, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lucia Dore is a financial journalist/editor, author, and documentary filmmaker, who has worked across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) the UK, Europe, North America and Asia/Pacific. Most recently she was head of a newswire service, Mergermarket, for MENA, which provides proprietary merger and acquisition intelligence for subscribers. She has also made a documentary on NZ's response to the refugee crisis – before the West deemed refugees a "crisis".


As well as providing PR and writing advice to clients, she is co-writing a book which looks at the interaction of seniors and technology, AI in particular. She also has a Business English Course which can be found a www.learnbusinessenglish.net. She is the owner of a media company, LCD Media, that looks at disruptive technologies in financial services in Asia/Pacific; Australasia and MENA. (A new website is under construction).

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