Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Censorship and the Upcoming Battle for the Internet

Those of us who grew up in the Cold War, or in its immediate aftermath, have an unfeasibly rose-tinted view of our own civilisation. The Great Commie Enemy had an ideology which on paper looked so much better - so much nicer, fairer - than ours, that for one brief blip in our history, our governments were forced to pay more than lip service to keeping their noses clean. Otherwise, how could a system which espoused rapacious and exploitative capitalism hold its own against a philosophy which preached universal brotherhood and justice? Damn, they were making us look bad...

Since the end of the Cold War, that necessity has vanished - again. No longer do we have a dream-land of fairness and solidarity to run away to, except in our minds. No longer do our governments have to pretend. And - lo! - we have a return to pre-war psychology in dealing with the benighted lands beyond the Glorious West - we invade, kill people, and take their stuff. Plus ca change - it's just that this time, it's oil. If there IS a difference, it's that the nasty machiavellianism which governments commit in our names now has the potential to appear in our living rooms and on our laptops, thanks to technology - the need for government control over how we see it has never seemed greater.

So, in a sense, one can hardly blame government - it's in their nature, like a lion tearing the throat out of a gazelle. To make it stop, we'd have to change that nature - which we seem not to have the stomach for, but obsess instead about which particular Lion we want in government, and expect that to make a difference. More fool us.

But the supine media - for that, we can justifiably blame ourselves. The loss of journalistic integrity over the past two decades has been shocking, and a betrayal of what journalism has been supposed to stand for. After decades of struggle to free themselves from attempted government takeovers and censorship attempts, we finally saw a media emerge which - in places at least - had balls enough to go for the jugular when it saw affronts against our civilised values committed by government or corporates alike.

Happy days. But, since then - again, with no ideological jousting partner of any quality - the media have once again gradually become just another branch of government - returned to the fold of pre-war jingoistic prattling and obfuscation. Small wonder they don't tell us what's going on in war zones - they barely report government activity at all, beyond parrotting press releases from the various "parties". Far better the Spice Girls and reality TV - gotta keep the bottom line in view.

But we all know this - there should be no cause for surprise. My only hope for the survival of that briefly flickering light of liberty we treasure lies in the freedom of information on the internet. Alternative media and organisational structures are possible, as we have seen.

Never mind Afghanistan: the real fighting lies ahead, for control of the internet, for active censorship of the communications we make between ourselves. For ten years or more our governments have been able to rely on the "censorship of cacophony" to drown out the occasional voice of truth or reason; now, things are coalescing out of the row of information that is the internet, and battlelines are becoming clearer. Expect the drum-beat of "threats from the internet" to resound ever louder in the mouths of politicians and the prostrate media.

In the end, it all seems to boil down to the same thing: obsessive, authoritarian control-freakery versus personal liberty. Man-in-the-White-Suit, Porter, Monbiot, Tony Benn, and the hordes of us here who will not sit silent - what a motley crowd we are! But perhaps, finally, our very diversity will be our strength.

No comments: