Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Democracy and electronic media

The communist regime in Chisinau has found conventional media much easier to control and manipulate than electronic media. For starters, the PCRM didn't really understand the importance of electronic media in this day and age, and thought that securing TRM would be sufficient to control the messages reaching the electorate. Secondly, electronic media is just different. It's nimbler, lighter on its feet and inherently less easy to control.

As time goes by, however, Voronin, Papuc and their Russian backers are doing their darnedest to limit freedom of expression in the electronic media. Some of the things they've done since April 5 include
1. Taking down ISPs (although you can only do this for short periods because otherwise there is economic impact)
2. Taking down mobile phone networks (once again, a short-term measure)
3. Denial of service attacks against opposition and independent media sites.
4. Deregistration of ".md" domains
5. Blocking of access to particular websites
6. Pressuring popular sites (e.g. Odnoklassniki.ru) to censor referrals to independent Moldovan media sites.
7. Threatening legal action against site owners because readers are leaving comments on the sites which the authorities class as racist of incitements to violence.

1 to 5 are clearly attempts by a repressive regime to curtail the freedom of speech which is every Molodvan's right under the constitution. These practices need to be attacked in Moldova's courts and before the ECHR by those who are having their rights violated. On a more practical note, independent media needs to take actions to mitigate the impact of SIS interference in electronic communications:
a. Get your internet connection from an ISP who won't be pressured by the Government to cut you off. Better still, get a satellite connection or a direct radio connection from Romania or Ukraine.
b. Have mobile telephone accounts with multiple suppliers (and satellite as a last resort). Expensive but will be necessary if the PCRM resorts to repressiona again after July 29th.
c. Owners of independent media sites should have their sites hosted overseas, with well-known mirror addresses that do not use the ".md" extension. They should also try to obatin security services / software that would mitigate DDOS attacks.

The solution to item 6 is to vote with your feet. Get off odnoklassniki.ru and move to another social networking site. Admittedly these are mostly in English, but there are some in Romanian and Russian.

The website comments issue is trickier. To what extent is the owner of a site responsible for the material that appears on it? Does the constitutionally-protected right to free-speech trump the societal norms against racism, hate-speech etc.? Let me make the following comments

1. The internet is an inherently democratic place, designed for the sharing of information and views. Media sites (such as those affiliated with the PCRM - omega.md, noutati.md etc) which do not allow comments are undermining this ethos.

2. Media sites should therefore allow comments, but state clearly that they are not responsible for the views of people posting comments (and make sure that the 'contract' with readers and posters supports this position).

3. On the other hand, while I like reading comments, I do not want to have to wade through a bunch of offensive garbage...

4. On the other other hand, I do not want somebody else making the judgement for me as to what is offensive and what is not.

5. The solution seems obvious to me. Have a moderator go through the comments and place all comments which do not appear to conform to the site rules into a 'trash can'. This way, those that don't want to read trash don't have to. On the other hand, the trash can would still be accessible on the site, allowing the comments to be read and the moderator's judgement to be challenged.

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