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November 6, 2007

Technology vs. The Dictators

by Doug Mataconis

As events in Pakistan continue to unfold, one thing is clear, the old dictator’s tool of shutting down the independent media isn’t working anymore:

KARACHI (AFP) – Blocked by the government and facing harsh curbs, Pakistan’s private television channels have turned to the Internet to reach viewers starved of news about the state of emergency in the country.

Authorities took cable broadcasters off the air on Saturday evening when they first started to report that military ruler President Pervez Musharraf was about to impose an emergency — which he did minutes later.

Since then most Pakistanis have faced either blank screens or the sanitised news broadcast by state television — a black hole that helped fuel rumours on Monday that Musharraf had himself been ousted by the army.

But the independent stations have hit back with Internet streaming and satellite broadcasting.

“News is a contraband item in Pakistan now and it is being sold on the black market,” Imran Aslam, the president of Geo Television, the country’s most widely watched cable news channel, told AFP.

Geo sent an SMS to cellphone users on Sunday telling them to log onto its website (www.geo.tv) to get live transmission. Another channel, ARY One, sent out a similar email (www.arydigital.tv).

“Technology has progressed beyond (the government’s) imagination and we believe this is the best time to put new media into operation,” said Aslam, whose channel is running an on-screen counter showing the time elapsed since the emergency began.

He added that there had been a “rush on Internet log-ons” since Musharraf imposed emergency rule.

There are between three and five million Internet users among Pakistan’s 160 million-strong population, service providers say, up from less than one million in 2001.

A small percentage of the population, yes, but I’m sure what you find is that each person accessing the forbidden news on the Internet is sharing that information with others. It might not trickle out to the entire population, but enough people will know what’s really going on to make Musharraf’s efforts to clamp down on any news not vetted by the state a failure from the beginning.

Once again, this reinforces an idea that George Orwell would have found strange. Rather than making the state stronger, technology actually weakens dictatorial control, because it makes it impossible for the state to control what their citizens see and hear about what is going on around them. And without control over the flow of information, the very legitimacy of the state itself comes into question.

Forget Big Brother, say hello to Google.


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1 Comment

  1. I know, it’s absolutely amazing what technology in just the last 10 years has done to tilt the balance of power more in favor of the individual. I wrote today about how this is giving Ron Paul such a huge voice from a relatively isolated and small crowd due to the world becoming, in Friedman’s words, “flat.”

    Comment by David Wilson — November 6, 2007 @ 8:47 pm

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