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The Internet is our nation

We usually link the restriction of freedom of expression to non European countries or the ones far away from the place we live in. We use to think that our apparently fair democracies give us all the freedoms we deserve, journalists are free to do their work properly without problems and we can express our opinion without being censored but… is this completely true?
Italy, Greece, even Spain… they are all familiar places for us, all of them members of the European Union and, theoretically, developed countries.
However… what is the situation of media in these places?

Italy is inside this repression of press. Berlusconi was owner of Mediaset and because of that he had a huge control over different media and, as a president, he made Italian law favourable to the censorship. One employee of RAI –other media channel in Italy, apparently out of this influence– said that censorship in Italy is very complex and that Berlusconi also had indirect control over RAI, even when it is not part of Mediaset.
“It would be difficult to imagine a modern and industrialized country, a member of the G8 and a founding member of the European Union, where a single figure had so much control over the media. You might expect this kind of concentration in Turkmenistan or Iran, but it shouldn’t take place in a country like Italy” were the words of Domenico Affinito, the vice-president of the Italian chapter of Reporters without borders.
Berlusconi also tried to extend his control over the Internet, drafting a decree (known as “ley mordaza”) to vet different videos, blogs and online media because of their content.
Italian version of Wikipedia protested because of it, changing all its Italian pages for a complaint about it, because this law affected them directly, as all the content should be censored before being published.

The situation in Greece is also a very complex one. In October, 2012, media outlets made a strike and protested in different ways because of the worsening and restriction of citizens’ rights and especially press freedom. Two journalists of the public channel NET TV were suspended apparently because of their critics to a minister of the Greek government. However, the only thing they did was to communicate that a medical report indicated the existence of police torture and, because of that, they asked for the resignation of the minister. As a reaction, journalists of public TV accused the government of censorship and started some stoppages.
This same day, other journalist published a list of 2.000 Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland, which caused his detention. The protests of the journalists boosted after this event because of the quick persecution of journalists in comparison with the slow process to go against the people accused tax evasion.

However, restriction of freedom of expression is not always so evident and “far” away from us. Spain is also a country where journalists (in a professional or activist way) can be limited when working. Since October, 2012, the government is planning to modify the law of Citizen Security to ban the spread of images or videos of policeman working if this puts them in a risky situation. This measure wants to avoid the harassment in social networks but many people consider that this is a restriction of freedom of expression, as it is difficult to define the line when an image should not be shared and that it can avoid the complaints when an unfair situation, as unjustified police charges in demonstrations. The Ministry working on this has ensured that journalists’ job won’t be restricted and has said that the situation that wants to be avoided is the spread of images through Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Youtube or other social networks but in case of people participating in the demonstration (and, once again, when this can be harmful for the forces of security). However, we can wonder if this is just an excuse to have the support of the Law to restrict freedom of expression (because this right is not only for journalists but for everybody).
Furthermore, the “Circle Board of Foreign Correspondents in Spain” published a document complaining about the censorship of the government. They said that the International Centre of Press was provided to foreign correspondents by the Ministry of Presidency in 2009 to make their job easier, but in august of 2012 they communicated a meeting with Baltasar Garzón and other with Cándido Méndez one week later (not asking for permission but to “book” the rooms for the meetings). The government denied the use of the room for the meeting with Baltasar Garzón, considering it too private and unsuitable, with no more explanations.
Is it a real democracy when the government decides when the job of the journalists can be done?

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The power of money.

It is undeniable that the development of new technologies and especially the Internet has been a breaking point for interaction between individuals and the rest of the world. Journalism takes an important role in this process but, because of this change, the way of communicating is not as it was traditionally.
Mainstream media do not always tell all the truth, because of several interests or just because the information to be told is inaccessible. However, thanks to the Internet and to the possibility of hacking the information, this has changed radically.
Wikileaks has opened the possibility for both citizens and journalists to have access to information that was previously hidden or unknown. Corruption, governments’ deception, censorship... Things we didn’t know that were happening are now just a click from us. Wikileaks has done it well in showing the truth of the governments, whether we agree with its means or not.
When the releasing of some cables of US government, the White House said that this was a dangerous action because if the information was published in a full way, it could endanger jobs and lives of some people. These cables showed secret relations between USA and the rest of the world when a time of war and terrorism.
One can said that “stealing” this information is not a proper way of doing journalism, that it is unfair or illegal but governments are supposed to serve citizens and they are not doing it properly, as many of these cables show. We deserve to know what the actions of our governments are and how they are being carried out.
Why should we accept their lies?

However, there is other problem that we all should accept: many of this information, published in cablegatesearch.net, remains unknown because the lack of people working on redacting it to show it to the world. Wikileaks works on getting the information but journalists are needed to report it so everybody can have a proper knowledge of what’s going on.
Furthermore, as Wikileaks is sharing secrets that we should know but governments and companies think we shouldn’t, it is facing a banking blockade from VISA, Mastercard, PayPal, Western Union and The bank of America, so they stopped publishing cables in 2010 and need people’s cooperation to finance themselves.
However, there are still many confidential cases from 2010 and previous years.

One of them is because of the musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar” in Venezuela. Information from the Embassy Caracas in there about this musical, local media and different sponsors was released to the Internet.
On February 26th, 2010, local media of Venezuela made a report about a broken sponsorship deal for this Venezuelan version of the well-known musical. This happened when the production company of the musical refused to accept the requirements of their sponsors Blackberry RIM and Movilnet of not advertising in certain local media unfriendly to the government of Venezuela, as Globovision TV or newspapers like “El Nacional” and “El Universal”. The director Michel Hausmann was told not to advertise in the mentioned media and some others even with their own money. The rejection of Hausmann before this condition meant the disappearing of $300.000 of financing for the musical from Movilnet and Blackberry RIM, even when both companies and Hausmann had signed the agreement on January 21st. Eight days later (on January 29th), Hausmann was told to go to a meeting in Movilnet where he was informed of a new condition for their contract and here is when he was told not to place ads in certain media.
Hausmann complained for this to the headquarters for Blackberry RIM in Mexico but this was useless because he was told that they would not go against their “biggest ally in the region”: Movilnet.
Hausmann was afraid of making the conflict public when it happened at the end of January even when he wished to, because of possible retaliation –and the production work had already started –. In fact, he received a phone call from Movilnet saying that he “would regret the decision” and should be prepared to “get screwed”.
The show was finally carried out but it suffered from many problems of financing, as Hausmann had few time to solve the retirement of the money from Blackberry RIM and Movilnet.

I got to know of this issue because of analyzing the information published by Wikileaks but… how many people don’t? How much information is “lost” in cablegatesearch.net? How many things are being done behind us? How many operations are being developed “in the shadows”, not only in other countries but our own?

The Internet is a very powerful tool, as we already know but it is not only a virtual world. It needs the cooperation and collaboration of people to be useful and now that we know our possibilities we must fight for transparency.

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Mothers of revolution.

Flickr: Lokha. CC license.

 When the revolution started, Arab women ended up with the submission that had made them remain in silence for years. It was the time to say “Stop” to the regime and the lack of freedom in their countries but this was only the starting point of a huger change.
Once people know what their goals are and are conscious of how powerful they are fighting together, it is very difficult to stop them. This is a reason why Arab women are now playing an important role in activism fighting for their rights, as they have been a very strong part of the Arab spring and now they want to continue the battle. They felt that the values that wanted to be achieved, as justice and freedom, couldn’t be reached if women are excluded. This led the way to the creation of the campaign “The uprising of women in the Arab world” in October 2011. Their demands focus on different types of freedom, equality and abolition of certain laws and practices that are against Human Rights.
The first step has been overthrowing the dictators from the government of Middle East and North African countries, but the next one is to end up with the situation that allows every man to be a dictator for his wife, daughter, mother…
The Internet has been a very powerful tool, not only in the Arab spring, but also on these new initiatives for women’s rights. The Facebook page of this campaign has reached the support of more that 100.000 people. Facebook has been their most powerful weapon but they also utilize other pages as Twitter (@Uprisingofwomen), with more that 4.000 followers and Flickr. They use Flickr as a way to show support from both women and men through photographs of them with a message. Mohamad_Jordan is with the uprising of women in the Arab world “because if the mind of a woman dies, the mind of a nation would die”. Marina_Jordan also supports it because she has honour too. “Honour is not only for men”. The Flickr page is full of photos of people showing their support and the reasons why they think women are doing things right in fighting for getting the same rights as men. 

Flickr has also been used with the same purpose in a campaign of Amnesty International to show support to activist women in Saudi Arabia, especially to Manal Al Sharif, a woman participating in the campaign “Women 2 Drive” that was detained because of it. This campaign consisted of women recording themselves driving, to share the video later on through the Internet. They created a Facebook page: “Saudi Women to drive” dedicated to the citizens of the world that support women’s freedom in Saudi Arabia and a Twitter account (@W2Drive).

This is part of “My Right to Dignity” movement, in which both women and men seek to restore all of Saudi Women’s Rights, as they believe Islam is not in favour of the discrimination that women suffer. They spread their information through Facebook pages as “Saudi Women Spring” (in Arabic) and “Teach me how to drive,let’s all support the Saudi Women Basic Rights” (in English).

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is an international solidarity network that gives support to women of Islam world. It was started by nine women from Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Iran, Mauritius, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Pakistan with the idea of create a collective space for women of the Islam world with the help of global feminism. It has launched several campaigns as “The violence is not our culture”, that tries to end up with all the forms of violence that try to justify themselves with cultural reasons. Facebook and Twitter are, again, useful tools for activists to get in touch with everybody interested on it. This page also offers a list where you can include your email to receive all the information in which they are working. They encourage people to help them through the Internet providing documents and investigations to reach out the media and alert the relevant United Nation offices about violation of human rights.

From more general and international campaigns and initiatives we can move to others developed in specific countries. During the Syrian uprising, women took part in the peaceful protests against the regime, as it happened in all the countries where the Arab spring spread, but their role diminished as the degree of violence increased. Arab women want the things to be done in a proper way, and violence is not the correct mean. That’s why four Syrian women, dressed in her wedding gowns, went to the streets with red banners with the motto “Stop all military operations in Syria. 100% Syrian”. This was put out by Freedom Days Syria, an organization that coordinates non-violent resistance groups. It got a great support among the Syrian population. Other organization, Free Syrians Group, released a statement of support for these women that were detained during the march. Syrian Women for the Syrian Intifada (SANAD) also showed its support on Facebook, and many pages were created for the same reason in that social network. This “Stop the killing” campaign has been initiated by women that, one more time, show how powerful they are and even when the government tries to hush them, thousand of voices raise all over the Internet (and so, all over the world).

When we thought every way of fight was seen, Arab women show us that the spring revolution has given them inspiration to innovate. Esra’a Al-Shafei created Mideast tunes, a platform of music about human rights and freedom to promote social change. Shafei is a Bahraini activist with innovating ideas. She has also founded Mideast youth, a platform of tweets, blogs, stories, links, videos and forums with the same goal that Mideast tunes. This site is very visited by Arab activists (not only the ones in Bahrain) to get ideas and support. This enables a huge cooperation online. Shafei focuses on minority rights, and because of that there is a great work on women, but not only on them. She considers that as a Bahraini woman she wants to get more rights but recognizes that in comparison to religious minorities or migrant, she has more rights. “I’m Muslim, Arab, a member of the mainstream that has more freedom of speech and more comfortable life. We can’t progress as a society if we leave the most vulnerable behind”. However, she doesn’t stop her work with these two initiatives. With the help of Twitter and Facebook she has promoted every idea for social change, as Crowdvoice to track voices of protests all around the world.
However, Shafei is not the only person that has promoted original campaigns in defending women’s rights. Both men and women in Yemen did it through an artistic representation on the street. This campaign was promoted by WCI-ALWANE. In Arabic, alwane means my colours, which represents very well this initiative, as people colour the wall of a street to spread the message of equity. Thanks to the Internet, lots of photos of this wall have been spread and many people know about its existence and the cooperation that was produced between men and women in painting it.

Another way of activism in all revolutions, as we have already seen, is videoactivism.
The campaign in Saudi Arabia threatened the stability of the subordination of women in that country and in Egypt, one more time, video is used as the weapon of pacific activism. WWER initiative uses the video as the basic tool to share the experiences of women during the revolution. It started by interviewing some of the female activists who took part in demonstrations and marches all over Cairo. At the beginning, women thought their contributions were insignificant and that there were other experiences more worthy to be shared but at the end, the become very inspirational for other people. WWER shared these videos through social media channels as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and finally created an archive of all these videos in collaboration with Mosireen, a non-profit media centre that promotes activism.
The same happened in Morocco when the activists used the Internet to call Moroccan population to go to the streets to protest on February 20th, 2011, giving their reasons to do it. This covered lots of issues as freedom, improve of education, labour rights and also gender equality.

They have been the mothers of Arab spring revolution and now it’s time for them to get the summer, fall and winter rights they deserve.