Which countries imprison the most journalists?

Journalism in Crisis CountriesThe cat and mouse game with censorship

Andrés Azpurúa is sitting in one of the glass function rooms of the Internet Freedom Festival in Valencia. He researches internet censorship at the organization "Venezuela inteligente" in Caracas. There is currently unlimited and systematic censorship in his country, he says. The Venezuelan telecommunications authority decides which websites the Internet providers have to block, there is no court order for this. Censorship had happened again and again, but the last two and a half months since the beginning of the national crisis had been the worst.

"So many media websites have been blocked, online news services from Venezuela, there are no free TV channels, Change.org is blocked, Soundcloud is blocked, Youtube, Periscope, Facebook and even Instagram."

The blockages are not continuous, but occur again and again at short intervals. For journalists in Venezuela, this means that they had to get creative so that their news would reach the people on their channels. One of the first news websites to be censored in Venezuela was the Colombian channel NTN 24. To avoid censorship, they first set up a new domain for the website.

"And then a game of cat and mouse began, because this site was blocked by the government, then there was a new one, etc. Then they set up their own Twitter account for Venezuelan viewers, they have a mobile app brought it to market so that people could watch the uncensored stream. That was one development. Other media have grouped their news in small chunks as audio messages and distributed them via social media and Whatsapp. "

Journalists learn to report on the censorship of their work

Part of Andrés Azupurúa's work is training journalists. If censorship is part of everyday life, it must also be reported, he believes. But then it is also important to understand how the Internet works exactly. More and more reporters are learning this right now. And not only that:

"Many journalists have become very well versed on social media. They no longer rely on the newsroom to publish their content, but use their own social media channels. They still write their pieces, and they are on the website, but you have to do something yourself to make your texts read. "

Venezuela is one of the countries where very targeted measures are being taken to block certain websites and apps. The "Open Observatory of Network Interference", Ooni for short, has developed free software to make such measures more visible - not only in Venezuela, but worldwide. This works by logging and evaluating user network data, says Maria Xynou, head of the research department at Ooni.

"That means it's about the kind of censorship that internet service providers do at the network level, that is, how they block access to websites or apps. Often based on government orders, sometimes at their own discretion."

More and more media are censoring themselves

However, this is mostly the case when the censorship laws are vague and unclear. The legal basis and whether at all is different in every country. This also makes it difficult to compare and evaluate censorship measures with one another. Especially since the data situation is not uniform for all countries. Nevertheless, one can see correlations between political events and censorship measures, says Xynou.

"That means we are seeing a trend towards censorship of news, elections, protests or other political events in the world. For example, we saw that social media services were blocked during the 2016 presidential election in Uganda, the same year there There was an internet shutdown in Gambia, including the presidential election there. We saw blockades on social media and many media websites during the protests in Pakistan in 2017, the same during the anti-government protests in Iran in early 2018, when Telegram and many other well-known services there have been blocked. "

Measures of censorship are not only increasing, they are also becoming more and more complex and dynamic. In Venezuela, among others, journalists have learned to find creative ways to make their content more visible. Often, however, this is hardly possible because of the repression that accompanies censorship in many countries. Non-governmental organizations around the world report that more and more media are censoring themselves for this reason. So censorship is not just a technical question, but above all a social one that is becoming more and more common for citizens around the world.