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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chief of German Olympic Committee Compares China and German Censorship

One thing German mainstream news are currently obsessed with (except Cuil – yes, it’s even showing up on German subway station info billboards!) is a statement made by the chief of the German Olympic Committee, Michael Vesper. On TV last Sunday in regards to Chinese web censorship he reportedly said, “In every country of the world, including Germany, internet pages are blocked. Here it’s right-wing websites which are locked down. And of course in China there are pages as well which will be censored.” (At the same time he added, “But free access should be provided to all important information needed by journalists to do their work.” What is done to your citizens for the rest of the year is your business but for a couple of weeks we demand a free internet for foreign journalists?)

What many German politicians now objected, and what made the headlines, is that Mr. Vesper compared Chinese and German censorship – because, as the base argument goes, the Chinese censor the good stuff whereas German censorship removes the bad and illegal stuff only (illegal in Germany, that is!). As you can see in Germany, freedom of speech is often interpreted to exclude the freedom to say things one vehemently disagrees with.

Vesper, under attack, by now took back what he said. But he wasn’t the first person to use Germany as a precedent to excuse censorship elsewhere. Quote from an Associated Press/ MSNBC article from 2006:

Asked whether Google might try to persuade Beijing to change its restrictions, [Google CEO Eric Schmidt] said he didn’t rule anything out, but said it hasn’t tried to change such limits elsewhere. He noted that Google’s site in Germany is barred from linking to Nazi-oriented material.

“There are many cases where certain information is not available due to local law or local custom,” he said.

One thing the mainstream news here often won’t cover though is what exactly is censored in Germany. And if you ask the officials, you will find out that this in itself is kind of censored information. Besides neonazi material – which may include raising the arm for the nazi greeting, but also parts of video games where you’d fight the nazis – the German state likes to censor things like certain punk albums, gore sites, rap lyrics, non-fiction books covering certain private details, and horror movies. In all this, the line between what is blocked for the youth only, and what is blocked for adults too, blur. Compare to the German constitution, which puts it like this:

Article 5 [Freedom of Speech] (1) Everybody has the right to freely express their opinion in speech, writing and images, and to educate themselves through publicly available sources without barriers. The freedom of the press and the freedom of broadcast reporting is ensured. There is no censorship taking place.
(2) These rights are limited by the instructions of the general laws, the directives for safeguarding the youth, and the right of personal honor.
(3) Art and science, research and education/ teaching are free. The freedom of education does not exempt one to honor the constitution.

There is no censorship taking place, except when there is.


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