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Posts Tagged ‘press freedom

Time Capsule…

 

Isotype, the visual language pioneered by Austrian sociologist, philosopher and curator Otto Neurath and his wife Marie in the 1930s, shaped modern infographics and visual storytelling.

America and Britain: Three Volumes in One, also known as Only an Ocean Between, is a wonderful 1946 out-of-print book by P. Sargant Florence and Lella Secor Florence from the golden age of ISOTYPE, kindly digitized by Michael Stoll, presenting a series of minimalist infographics that compare and contrast various aspects of life in Britain and the United States…

As a time-capsule of cultural change and technological progress, the infographics put present-day numbers in perspective, especially in the domains of telecommunication, media, and resource usage.

Read more at Brain Pickings; and see more of the extraordinary graphics (in the size of one’s choice) at Michael Stoll’s Flickr stream.

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As we contemplate our “cousins,” we might send judicious birthday greetings to James Delancey; he was born on this date in 1703.  A Cambridge-educated English aristocrat, Delancey migrated to the American colonies, settling in Manhattan, where he was appointed Chief Justice by Royal Governor William Cosby.

The times were tense:  Eighteenth century American colonists were demanding increased freedom and democracy; many colonial New Yorkers were individualistic entrepreneurs seeking financial success and independence, unwilling quietly to defer to what they viewed as antiquated claims of royal privilege.  Proponents of royal rule– including Delancey and Cosby– desperately sought to maintain power in the face of that growing opposition.

Peter Zenger’s New York Weekly Journal, a paper regularly critical of royal privilege, published articles in the early 1730s exposing Governor Cosby’s unjust policies, backroom financial deals, and bullying tactics.  A furious Cosby condemned the Journal, had copies of the paper publicly burned, and– to widespread public outrage– imprisoned Zenger for eight months while he awaited trial for seditious libel.

At the trial in 1735– presided over by a decidedly-hostile Delancey– Zenger’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton (like Zenger a former indentured servant turned successful businessman), aimed his defense at the jury rather than the judge, hoping that a public fearful of royal abuses would condemn Cosby and protect Zenger.  Hamilton conceded that Zenger had published articles critical of Cosby but eloquently argued that because the articles contained truths in the form of statements of verifiable facts, they could not be libelous.  The jury’s “not guilty” verdict generated spontaneous cheers from the gallery… More importantly the verdict, which created the precedent that truth is a defense against charges of libel, laid the foundation for American press freedom.

As Founding Father Gouverneur Morris said, “The trial of Zenger in 1735 was the germ of American freedom, the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America.”

(More on the trial, its protagonists, and its impact here.)

The burning of Zenger’s New York Weekly Journal (Bettman Archive)

 source

 

 

Special “The Irony of It All” Edition…

source

Yesterday, in the midst of a wholesale effort to squelch Wiikileaks (e.g., here), The U.S. government announced that it will be hosting World Press Freedom Day in 2011.

Meantime, one can perfectly easily use a Mastercard (or Paypal or Visa) to buy counterfeit products, download porn, purchase guns… but not to donate to Wikileaks…

“Jonathan Swift!  Calling Dr. Jonathan Swift!…”

Ignorance is strength…

From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

- George Orwell, 1984

China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO), an arm of the Central Propaganda Department, operates an “Internet Affairs Bureau” to oversee all web sites that publish news, both the official sites of news organizations and independents.

This Internet Affairs Bureau sends very specific instructions to all large news web sites,  often multiple times per day. Sometimes these instructions ban contents outright, but often they instruct web sites to highlight or suppress certain type of opinions or information– in a very detailed manner.  Consider these directives (issued March 23, 2010; translated by the China Digital Times):

(The link to “China’s princelings” goes here.)

On the subject of Google’s exit from China (well, to Hong Kong; excellent background piece from PRI’s The World here), the Bureau had very specific instructions (again, translated by the CDT):

But technology marches on…  these government directives are meant to be confidential.  But while they are not showing up on web sites per se in China, some of their recipients– the web editors at whom they are aimed– are using Twitter, Sinaweibo (Sina’s popular micro-blogging service), and other social media to slip them into cyberspace.  To wit, the CDT coverage.

It should come as no surprise then that the SCIO is expanding:  an “Internet Affairs Bureau 2″ is being established to control social media and other Web 2.0 services driven by user-generated content.  (More background on Chinese “management of web content” here.)

As we remark that a vigorous independent media is the infrastructure of democracy, and that it is an issue of some valence not just in China, but essentially everywhere in the world,* we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that a German referendum ratified Deutschland’s armed occupation of the Rhineland earlier that month, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  Hitler acted when he did for a variety of reasons, main among them that France, the most directly-affected/threatened other nation, was in internal political and financial disarray, and that Germany was in the midst of an economic crisis of its own, from which the Fuhrer needed a foreign policy distraction…  the Chancellor’s timing was good: France’s response was limited to a strongly-worded condemnation, and 99% of the votes cast in the German referendum (44.5 million votes out of 45.5 million registered voters), were in support.

Fuhrer and Chancellor

* For peeks at two very different examples of action that can matter, check out The Censorship Research Center and The Media Development Loan Fund

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