Freedom of speech is something we hear a lot about in the western world. Often this freedom is viewed in the context of journalism or protests, and in terms of modern-media, Americans often think of the NSA. Unfortunately, billions of people worldwide don’t have the luxury of this ignorance. To put global censorship into perspective, we’ll examine the degree of censorship and then the perspective of the citizens for two of the world’s most controlling government, China & North Korea.
North Korea’s degree of censorship is almost unparalleled. They rank 2nd worst in the world on the Press Freedom Index (PFI), and has no rating for their degree of political and social filtering due to the lack of information the country provides to external parties. As for China, the country ranks 5th worst on the PFI, and has fairly serious classifications for their political and social filtering. So, what do these ratings mean? For North Korea, there is no such thing as internet, or any other media, free of government filtering. For example, average citizens have no access to the worldwide web; instead, “[Korea] provides the Kwangmyong – an intranet [featuring] a social network, its own type of email & domestic news services” (Paschali, 2015). Whereas North Koreas censorship is total, all-encompassing, and all the time, China employs a more utilitarian approach where censorship is exercised with a practical goal in mind. For example, China censored the Chinese broadcasts of the ’08 Beijing Olympics with a mandated 10-second delay to keep Chinese citizens from viewing certain protests or any criticism of China’s hosting of the games. The fundamental difference that these examples show between the two countries is where China censors information critical of specific government activities, North Korea censors information critical of the government, which, in Korea, includes everything.
So, how do the citizens feel about this? The differentiating factor between the populations is the presence of a point of comparison. North Koreans likely have an idea they’re being censored, but due to their restrictions may not know about the web, instead thinking each country has their own intranet like North Korea. As a China Central Television (CCTV) tweet read, “Things that we consider trivial like going online, sending emails, and downloading software on an iPad are considered ‘privileges’ in North Korea” (Caragliano, 2013). This brings us to how the Chinese citizens view their censorship. The tweet was in the midst of criticism around a government ordered ‘rewrite’ of a newspaper’s editorial on constitutionalism. This ensued a series of citizen tweets criticizing CCTV’s hypocrisy, followed by governmental deletes, and back again. The Chinese citizens are aware of their censorship because the country’s censorship allows access to things like Twitter that provide a point of comparison, where North Koreans may be entirely unknowing to their censorship status.
Although both country’s actions are both categorized as despicable in our worldview, it is important that we, as citizens of the internet, understand what level of information oppression exists, where, and why.
- Caragliano, D. (2013, January 14). China to Web Users: Great Firewall? Just Be Glad We’re Not North Korea. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/china-to-web-users-great-firewall-just-be-glad-were-not-north-korea/267146/
- Censorship by country. (2016, December 08). Retrieved February 01, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_by_country
- Internet Blackholes [Internet Censorship by Country]. (2014). Retrieved February 02, 2017, from https://rsf.org/en
- Paschali, C. (2015, May 24). Comparing regimes of censorship: North Korea and China. Retrieved February 02, 2017, from http://the-indie-pendent.com/comparing-regimes-of-censorship-north-korea-and-china/