Updated: Jun 17, 2019
By Ishani Chettri (‘20)
Media encompasses everything from social media applications, such as Instagram or Twitter, to television commercials to print media. All these multiple outlets carry one purpose: to inform the public.
Whether it’s celebrity gossip or updates on the continuous civil war in Syria, news will always be transmitted through some type of medium that alerts the public. However, not every country in the world is able to have freedom of expression nor freedom of speech due to laws that restrict citizens’ rights to peacefully speak about their dissenting opinions.
The Press Freedom Index varies from 6 to 85 in which 6 represents countries that have total press freedom while 85 represents those countries that have total control of the press. According to the Freedom House (FH) Freedom of the Press report, North Korea is the world’s most censored country with a Press Freedom Index of 84.98. China and Saudi Arabia may have lower Press Freedom Indexes, but are still considered some of the most censored countries in the world.
These countries censor different kinds of media that encourage any form of dissent. Some examples include banning certain trending hashtags, taking down episodes from Netflix shows, and arresting citizens who joke about the government online.
Global platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are replaced with Chinese duplicates known as Youku, Weibo, and WeChat respectively. Basically, Chinese citizens have social media platforms designed just for them as a way for the Chinese government to monitor and censor anything that goes online in China itself.
One of 2018’s biggest international news stories was the mysterious murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi that puzzled the international community as he was seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, but was reportedly never seen coming out of it. It was speculated that the Saudi Arabian government was involved with his murder as Khashoggi had ties with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during his time as a journalist.
Due to Khashoggi’s career as a reputable journalist with potential influence, the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia saw Khashoggi as a threat and allegedly, got rid of him to avoid future political conflicts. However, this matter has not been completely confirmed due to Saudi Arabia’s refusal to push the issue.
The situation of missing journalists and activists has increased to a point where their disappearances and reports of their deaths have become the norm as 168 journalists are currently imprisoned: the majority are from Turkey (30), Egypt (25), Saudi Arabia (18), and China (14).
In 2018, 66 journalists were killed worldwide with connections to their journalistic work primarily from Afghanistan (14), Mexico (8), and India (6). In 2019, six journalists have already been killed with the majority of them executed in Afghanistan.
On May 29, 2018, Ukrainian journalist Arkady Babchenko suddenly made an appearance at a news conference in the capital city of Kiev after reportedly faking his own murder. The day before Babchenko’s surprise reveal, he was ‘shot’ in his back and died on the ambulance’s way to the hospital after his wife found his body on the floor of their apartment entrance.
Unbeknownst to the public, Babchenko’s ‘murder’ and ‘death’ were part of a sting operation carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in order to expose Russian assassins assigned to kill Babchenko and 30 others in Ukraine. It’s reasonable to assume that it was due to Babchenko’s activity in Russia that got him targeted. He had reported on news that jeopardized the lies Russia were trying to cover, but he happened to be one of the lucky ones who got away and was able to expose the tyranny of Russian secrecy about Ukrainian journalists.
Not only journalists but activists have been caught and arrested for speaking out against their individual countries’ government or political system. In the process, their voices have been silenced but their stories have not as the public, more importantly the youth, have not forgotten about these silenced reporters.
Take for example, Rap against Dictatorship, a Thai rap group who made a song titled “Prathet Ku Me” or “What My Country’s Got” which criticized Thailand’s 5-year ruling military junta government and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha.
Posted on YouTube on October 22, 2018, the music video has obtained over 60 million views and plays a major role in representing Thailand’s youth as 18-25 year olds can vote for the first time in 8 years in March. Thailand’s first election after 8 years has left 15% of the 52 million eligible Thai voters to be comprised of 18-25 year olds, possibly swaying the election to rule in favor of newer and younger Democratic parties that are advocating for flexible freedom of expression and censorship laws.
In the start of 2018, Chinese women were able to utilize social media in an innovative way to signal the #MeToo movement. Through the use of hashtags and clever ways to spread the campaign, Chinese Internet users were able to use #WoYeShi, #metoo, or #RiceBunny as Mi tu in Mandarin translates to rice bunny; hence the birth of a new hashtag and indications of the #MeToo movement.
The mention of sexual abuse, misconduct, or harassment in China is widely banned. Whenever a case arises, the Chinese government is quick to shut down any type of information regarding the issues.
Luo Xixi was a Chinese citizen who shared her own story of sexual abuse committed by her supervisor and a renowned professor of Beihang University, Chen Xiaowu, by publishing the alleged crime on a Weibo post. Multiple women - Lui Lai-Yui, Yue Xin, Zhou Xiaoxuan, etc. - have contributed multiple accounts of personal experiences and stories as a result of the courageous actions of Luo Xixi. To this day, Chinese women and men have been actively participating for the need to address sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse with many leading protests and consequently, getting arrested for them.
While censorship is an international issue, why does even matter in the long run and who does it affect? Well, don’t be surprised to know that censorship affects everyone including the students of SBHS.
The Viking Vibe must get its own articles approved by the school principal, Mr. Peter Varela, when it comes time to publish the print edition. Similarly, most high schools that have school newspapers must get permission from administrators and create boundaries that students cannot cross if they wish to be in the paper. It’s a way to deter offense to anyone who reads the paper, but are there more motives behind it?
When asked about the purpose of permitting any Viking Vibe articles that go in the print edition of the paper, principal Peter Varela responded with “The Viking Vibe and the Office of the Principal have always experienced an excellent relationship. We have a mutual respect for one another. Ultimately, reporters do not have free reign to report on anything and everything and they report to editors who ultimately report to the owner of the paper.”
It is true that the Viking Vibe staff cannot publish anything that isn’t allowed by the advisor, Mr. Andrew Loh. However, they are allowed to report on anything that they believe impacts the students, staff, and overall school community. There are certain barriers they can’t cross especially if the matter exceeds their abilities but they can basically write about anything.
There are articles that have been denied publication in the Viking Vibe in the past due to their contents’ involvement of the SBHS community. In 2016, Malaika Jawed, who was the editor-in-chief of the Viking Vibe, had written an article about kids doing drugs in SBHS. She had interviewed a couple of kids who had admitted to doing drugs and were using drugs at the time, but chose not to include their names in her article. However, her article was denied publication in the print edition as it involved SBHS students and their drug use despite the topic of the article being centered on drug abuse.
When Jawed was asked about this, she responded with “I think for this situation [denying my article] was valid because the whole point of a student newspaper is student quotes and not being able to write student names for obvious reasons makes the article less credible, especially with that topic [being about drugs]. ”
Mr. Loh agreed.
He said, “It’s been a while, but as I recall, we had some difficulty verifying the sources for that particular article. Most times when we decline to publish an article, it almost always has something to do with questionable or unverifiable sources, not with the controversy that might ensue. For instance, we had no problems publishing the article about possible racial disparity, despite the fact that it didn’t necessarily put district practices in the most favorable light. ”
But does this level of censorship from the school limit students from reading about issues that are vital to today’s current events which also affect our local community?
Mr. Varela replied with, “The reporting of current events is really important. You can turn on television and watch a myriad of channels. I believe there is an absolute need for everyone to be current...within their communities, their state, the country, and the world.”
So do people actually care about censorship? Do students even care at all?
Senior Brian McNicholas said, “Personally, I wouldn’t care if the school added more information about censorship and freedom of expression because people will become more sensitive, as they already have, to everything as witnessed in media regarding politics and such.”
But that is just one student’s perspective on the issue. There are those who hold different opinions on the matter and believe in the use of at least some kind of awareness to educate students about censorship and freedom of press and speech.
Take for example, junior Shibani Athreya who noted, “Students should be taught about censorship so that they will be cultured enough to understand why some countries prohibit that right and others cherish the voice to make a statement without consequences.”
Students should have the opportunity to express their opinions in any way, shape, or form. Now, this does not mean that one can go and start lighting flags on fire in the school, but students shouldn’t have to be barred nor have their voices suppressed when it comes to sensitive topics that are worth discussing.
Social studies teacher Mr. Justin Negraval said, “ I think social studies teachers have a responsibility to incorporate these current issues into their classrooms. I don't think that these issues have to be always taught in a very formal way, but if we're not at least bringing these issues into the classroom, and presenting them as matters of importance for civilization, then what are we doing?”
Through the use of the Internet, easy access to imperative issues like censorship can be made available with shows such as Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. Specific episodes that focus on government secrecy, censorship, and political awareness include “Saudi Arabia + Censorship in China,” “Hip Hop And Streaming,” and the episode Saudi Arabia asked Netflix to remove: “Saudi Arabia.”
So why are the deaths of journalists or missing activists important? The fact that people, whose purpose is to find out the truth or advocate for the silenced, are being murdered, threatened, and have disappeared without a single trace is preposterous. These murders and disappearances are evidence as to what extent governments will go towards in order to avoid public exposure regarding issues like censorship and government secrecy.
Let’s hope that justice is brought to these innocently murdered journalists and activists despite many countries’ strict censorship laws.