Controls, access problems keep Internet from total freedom

Friday, March 31, 2000

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — People may think the Internet is the very
embodiment of First Amendment values, but they’d be surprised at how
access is restricted — even in the United States, a journalism
professor says.

Debashis Aikat, assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Mass
Communication at the University of North Carolina, told students and
faculty yesterday that it’s true that the Internet “is a medium without
gatekeepers — that’s what makes it powerful.”

But “even in the U.S., we have issues with people trying to battle with
content controls,” Aikat said on a panel during the First Amendment Center’s First Amendment Days program at UNC.

For example, companies that offer free Web sites often have content
restrictions. Aikat gave the example of GeoCities’ “content violation forms” for their users.

He also noted that despite the Internet’s designation as a global
network without borders, material that originates in the United States
often doesn’t reach other countries, even if those countries are wired.
“In Singapore, you go through a ‘proxy server’ and there is a list of
Web sites you cannot access. And who decides that list? The government.”

The Freedom Forum’s Adam Clayton Powell III said that, because of
Webcasting, foreigners speaking in the United States have to
particularly careful about the repercussions of exercising free speech
abroad. During a panel last year, a journalist from Turkey was talking
about a trial there that he covered, Powell said. Someone asked him to
describe what the judge had said during the trial. But the journalist said
he could not reveal that information because the Webcast of the panel
could be picked up in Turkey, and his family might suffer repercussions
from his outspokenness.

“So there is a downside, as it were,” Powell said, “to the Internet
erasing distance and time.”

On the upside, the Internet has helped journalists in Africa oppose
oppressive regimes, said Joe Kadhi, a journalism professor at the
University of Nairobi and former managing editor of the Daily Nation.

In the years before the Internet, Kadhi faced threats of death,
intimidation by his own publisher and even went to jail over his
commitment to cover the news.

“In 1990, Kenya was a one-party state,” Kadhi explained. “If any
journalist wrote anything against the party, it was as good as
committing suicide.”

When people took to the streets to demonstrate against the party, Kadhi
and his staff covered it, even though the president himself had
forbidden it. They were the only paper with the story, Kadhi said.

A few years later, “the Internet came to Nairobi,” Kadhi said, “and it
allowed journalists to write stories they never would have been able to
write before.” With a change in political climate, and with a president
now more concerned about his image overseas, the media have more freedom
than ever before.

But struggles over content continue in Kenya and around the world,
Powell said. One battle in the United States is over digital video, he
said. DVD manufacturers are aggressively going after Internet software
they feel threatens their business. Even news organizations that link to
a Web page with the software makers’ point of view could be a target, he

First Amendment Days 2000

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

·Civil rights brought ‘first freedoms’ together 4.3.00
·Press freedom lets minority voices be heard 4.3.00
·Controls, access problems keep Internet from total freedom 3.31.00
·Battling over what goes on kids’ library shelves 3.31.00
·Who decides what art is? 3.31.00
·The Freedom Forum and First Amendment Center present First Amendment Days: A Celebration and Exploration of the First Amendment 3.20.00
·Agenda 3.20.00