The Uncensored Library

The Uncensored Library

A virtual island for press freedom created by Reporters without Borders and BlockWorks

How to support press freedom?

The question is more pressing and urgent then ever: in the face of democratic decline, the increase of authoritarian tendencies, the classification of inconvenient facts as “fake news”, persistent repression of journalists, censorship and oppression of public discourse in many countries of the world, how can we find mechanisms and instruments to realise the fundamental right of “access to information”?

The uncensored library in Minecraft

Reporters without borders and BlockWorks have now created a new home for press freedom: the uncensored library (https://uncensoredlibrary.com/en). Even in countries where almost all media is blocked or controlled, computer games are still accessible. This loophole is now used to bypass internet censorship. On March 12th, the “World Day Against Cyber Censorship” this new library has opened its doors. With the little building blocks – the “virtual lego” – which allow the creation of new imaginary worlds, an island of information and knowledge was created. The virtual Minecraft universe now transforms the real world. Its symbol is a fist clenching a pen, to show the power of the written word. The neoclassical building with multiple wings, each dedicated to censured news stories from a particular country, has been constructed by builders from 16 countries with over 12.5 million blocks[1]. Hidden from government surveillance technology articles banned in countries like Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are accessible through the books of the library and more books will be added in the future. While the books can be read by anyone on the server, their content cannot be changed. The articles are available in English as well as the languages in which they were originally written[2]. The aim is to provide access to independent information to young people around the world to empower the next generation to stand up for its right to information.

The uncensored library is a new chapter in the history of public libraries.​

Franklin D. Roosevelt (President of the United States, 1933-1945) characterized libraries as the “great symbols of the freedom of the mind”, they “disseminate information, ensure that citizens have the resources to develop information literacy and guarantee freedom of expression”[3]. Liberal conceptions of democracy since the 19th century built on the idea of informed citizens participating in the political decision-making process, which in turn contributed to the foundation of public libraries to allow easy access to information for everyone[4]. The uncensored library now provides access to independent information for young people around the world and allows them to form their own opinions:

#TruthFindsAWay.

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The more you know

In the following, I will elaborate on the complexity oft the problematic with freedom of speech and press freedom.  This is a very serious topic, so it might not be as fun to read, or as entertaining as many other articles on GGaming, but it is important that it’s said.

Plurality of opinion and transparency are characteristics of open and free societies.

Journalism checks on power, it uncovers inconvenient truths, it informs the electorate and allows to hold accountable politicians at the ballot box.  In a democratic society media informs, allows for the formation of opinion through open debate of arguments and controls by reporting on abuse of power. “Democracy dies in darkness” is the motto the Washington Post adopted in 2017. In 2018 the V-DEM (Varieties of Democracy) Report presented us with an alarming picture. For the first since 1979 the quality of democracy is deteriorating on a global scale.  Especially aspects of democracy that make elections truly meaningful are in decline. Media autonomy, freedom of expression and alternative sources of information have “undergone the greatest declines among democracy metrics in recent years”[5]. Authoritarian rulers don’t particularly like the critical approaches of free press, as control over opinion is crucial for autocratic stability. As these regimes build on the repression of political pluralism, spoils of office (corruption) and the emotional manipulation of the masses, press must be under control. At best dissenting opinions are discounted as “fake news”, at worst the journalists opposing the mainstream narrative are assaulted, imprisoned or killed.

Access to information is a basic human right.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights (1948) states that the fundamental right freedom of expression includes the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” But in many parts of the world this basic right is far from realization. The “Reporters without Border” Index of 2019, evaluating the state of journalism in 180 countries, shows that the hostility towards journalists has increased in many countries and regions. Only 24% of all counties are classified as “good” or “satisfactory” while in 66% we find a “problematic” or “difficult situation. In 11% of the countries, among them Egypt, Cuba, Iran or China the situation for journalists is serious (for a more detailed analysis and ranking see https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table). Since the beginning of the year 2020 9 journalists have been killed world-wide and 222 journalists were imprisoned, most of them in countries like China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Journalists are accused of inciting extremism against the state, news content is censored, even members of the public are jailed for sharing content by posting on social networks.

Corona crisis as crisis of free press and access to information

And while the world for the last weeks has been struggling to get control over the spread of the COVID-19 virus, for some countries it became another reason to crack down on journalists, who criticized their governments approaches to tackling the crisis (https://rsf.org/en/tracker19-Coronavirus-Covid19). Chinese journalists have been detained as they argued that China’s censorship has delayed the adoption of measures against the coronavirus crisis and therefore has contributed to the spread of the disease in China. In Tajikistan authorities insisted that there are no coronavirus cases in the country and accused journalists of “sowing panic” when purporting different information. In Turkmenistan even the word “coronavirus” was banned from all official information. Censorship thus becomes life-threatening.

Sources

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/13/reporters-without-borders-uses-minecraft-to-sneak-banned-news-into-restrictive-countries.html; Reporters without Borders is using Minecraft to sneak censored news to readers in restrictive countries.

[2] https://www.dw.com/en/reporter-without-borders-builds-uncensored-minecraft-library/a-52745435. Reporter without Borders builds uncensored Minecraft library.

[3] Nancy Kranich (eds.) (2001), Libraries and Democracy. The cornerstones of Liberty. Chicago and London: American Library Association.

[4] Michael H. Harris (1999), History of Libraries in the Western World. Fourth Edition. Lanham, Maryland, and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., p. 6.

[5] V-DEM Annual Democracy Report 2018. Democracy for All. V-DEM Institute, page 6.

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