The Trial Will Not Be Televised | The Jackal

17 Aug 2011

The Trial Will Not Be Televised

You might have heard that Hosni Mubarak's trial is no longer going to be broadcast. He's being tried for corruption and violence against the protesters in Tahrir Square and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The consequences of justice not being done in this case are significant, but there are bigger implications to what is essentially state control of the media.

Transparency is something that should be a foundation of democracy. By punishing people when they express their viewpoints and restricting the public's access to information, governments should no longer be considered democratic.

These breaches of the basic principles of freedom of expression and freedom to be informed are not just isolated to Egypt's dysfunction, as the British government is currently implementing similar measures as those practiced in countries like China and Iran, who control any social network where opposition can gain momentum.

In many cases governments often overreach themselves and ignore international law, but in others their censorship regimes are perhaps justified. So how far should social networking restrictions and internet censorship go?

There's no argument that certain restrictions on things like fascism, child pornography and hate speech should be in place, but when media and Internet restrictions apply to normal citizens who are expressing their lawful viewpoints, one should label that interference as repression. It's a fine line to tread, and one that must not be enforced under unreasonable grounds.

Perhaps the best case for absolutely no state control of social media platforms was made when Essex police arrested a 20 year-old man after they discovered his plans to organize a mass water fight. He allegedly utilized Facebook and the BlackBerry Messenger service to organize the lawful event.

The unnamed man has been charged with "encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence" under the 2007 Serious Crime Act. Clearly this is an overreaction brought about because of the recent rioting in Britain, and the fact that many people used networking services to organize and coordinate their protests.

The difficulty governments face in applying controlling measures is that any infrastructure could be abused and it also impacts on lawful undertakings. Switching the Internet off for instance means a reduction in transactions, slows communications and inhibits shops from undertaking normal business. It therefore adversely affects the economy.

There's no doubt however that social media is a veritable wet dream come true for capitalists, who can now direct market their products to the consumer, based on stored information about their preferences. It's an interesting conundrum in that the very same medium used for advertising has driven a hunger that caused many British rioters to steal during their rampage.

Another hypocritical dynamic is who is paying for businesses to use social media platforms for advertising. Despite the Broadcasting Act 1989, which states that any unsolicited advertisement should not cost the recipient, nearly every media outlet undertakes advertising which uses up the recipients time, electricity and/or broadband.

It's not enough for the capitalists to merely make a killing selling their rubbish, they have to ensure the public pays for the brainwashing involved in their advertising regimes as well. We can therefore consider the current system of unsolicited advertising unlawful.

In the pursuit of the all mighty dollar, it appears that anything goes. There's one inescapable truth in all this though; information is power and the control of information dissemination is also powerful, but dangerous in that improper use could lead to a further dumbing down of the population.

It's another catch twenty two, if governments want intelligent people and a knowledge based economy they will not restrict access to information, if they want to restrict and control social media, then intelligence is also repressed. Ignorance is bliss, but also unhealthy within a democratic society.

It's my belief that the consequences of people being properly informed should not outweigh peoples right to be informed. People have the right to make properly informed decisions, whatever the consequences. In other words, treat the cause of social disorder, not a resulting symptom... otherwise governments are just asking for more trouble.