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Censor Sensibility

Following the shut-down of the Italian Wikipedia, Evan O’Quigley examines the growing trend of internet censorship

The Italian Wikipedia has recently closed in protest against an attempt by everybody’s favourite Euro-deviant, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to bring in a new law requiring websites to correct any content deemed harmful to a person’s image. This bill was first conceived after the leaking of wiretapped conversations featuring the Italian leader admitting that he is only the prime-minister in his “spare time” and making sexual insults about German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The seventy-five-year-old Premier is no stranger to controversy; he has long been known for his alleged affairs with underage prostitutes, offensive remarks about other politicians and connections with the Italian Mafia, among an entire stream of other accusations too long to list.

This does beg the question, why, in spite of all of this, would people continuously vote this man back into power? The answer is simply to do with media control. The Berlusconi family have long controlled the ‘Mediaset Empire’ which includes the top three national TV channels in Italy. He has also been highly involved with the ‘public service’ national broadcaster, Radiotelivione Italiana, effectively monopolising Italian media control. Can you imagine if Enda Kenny controlled RTE, TV3 and TG4, and in his spare time slept with prostitutes and took money from gangs in return for political favours? Apart from that image being completely hilarious, it would be shocking to think that he could actually get away with it.

Of course while Berlusconi has been able to control the televised media, he has not been able to control the web; that is, until recently. Unfortunately for Silvio, he doesn’t own the internet, which is why he is bringing in new laws to stop Italian websites such as Wikipedia from being able to inform the voting public of the gargantuan list of crimes and misdemeanours attributed to him.

Wikipedia themselves released an open letter to the Italian people reading “Today, unfortunately, the very pillars on which Wikipedia has been built – neutrality, freedom and verifiability of its contents – are likely to be heavily compromised…”

What is most worrying about this story is the mere idea of internet censorship being imposed by a government. The Italian Wiki-folk were right to shut down the site before this legislation went into place. It is greatly damaging to the idea of individual freedom, which appears to now be in jeopardy in Italy, unless this law is withdrawn and the it.wikipedia.org site is reinstated.

This isn’t the first case of Internet censorship on a national scale. In China, Google is heavily self-censored in order to comply with the rulings of Communist leaders and allow the corporation to do business in the state. Looking up Chinese history for instance, on google.cn, China’s port for Google, will return largely different results than the rest of the world’s version of the search. Searching ‘Tiananmen Square’ on google.com brings up sites about the massacre at the top of the first page, however searching “Tian’anmen Guangchang” on the Chinese Google portal returns pages from Trip Advisor among others, none of which mention one of the most violent tragedies in China’s history. In other countries such as North Korea and Cuba, the internet is more or less banned altogether, for fear that freedom of information would lead to a breakdown of the political systems in place in the respective countries.

Ireland is also no stranger to web censorship. In 2009 Irish internet service providers were given legal warnings by several major record labels including EMI and Universal to implement a system which would cut off the broadband connections of people found to be downloading music illegally. This led to Eircom’s ‘3 strikes’ policy, and the blocking of the popular torrent site ‘thepiratebay.org’ to Eircom users. The company’s actions were criticised by many as infringing on the liberties of Irish people.

The United Kingdom is also embarking on a course of censorship, with four of the UK’s biggest internet service providers set to make customers have to ‘opt in’ to viewing sexually explicit websites when they register their internet, as part of a government attempt to crack down on online pornography. While this writer is of course not defending or condoning pornography, one must look at the wider picture and realise that if governments and service providers continue to interfere with the web, it may be soon enough that they have much more control over what websites people view on a daily basis, for better or for worse.

Restriction of web-pages in countries with democratic systems, although far rarer than in dictatorships, is now beginning to become a worrying issue. The Italian Wikipedia fiasco must be taken very seriously if freedom of information is to be respected across Europe and the wider world. Instances such as this could lead to further information being suppressed by governments, if we remain apathetic towards the decisions to remove pages they deem ‘inappropriate’ from the World Wide Web.