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Is Online Journalism a Threat or a Boon to Press Freedom?

At a recent international conference in Berlin on online journalism, DW-WORLD.DE asked Michael Rediske from the German Section of Reporters without Borders if Internet reporting has changed all the rules.

Ocak Isik Yurtcu, a former newspaper editor jailed for articles published in his paper, waves from his jail

The number of journalists in jail is on the rise

DW-WORLD.DE: How has the rise of online journalism influenced press freedom?

Rediske: It's created a platform for people, journalists and activists who in the past were denied a voice. The bar for media production has been lowered. Today, anyone can start a blog and easily send and receive information beyond national borders. On the other hand, it has also mobilized authorities and governments who don't tolerate dissenting voices within the media. They no longer merely impose wide-scale bans, such as in Cuba and China. Countries like China can now also avail themselves of technical tools to practice censorship.

According to figures published by your organization, the number of murdered journalists has risen by almost 250 percent in the last five years. Two journalists are arrested every day. Does this reflect the rise of online journalism?

No. The number of murdered journalists has risen because of civil war, primarily in Iraq, where over 50 percent of journalists have been killed, and Afghanistan. What online journalism has done, however, is trigger greater oppression. In countries like Burma and China, the jails are full. Of the 120 journalists behind bars, 60 are online dissidents.

Michael Rediske

Michael Rediske

Is online journalism a threat or a boon to press freedom?

Individuals now have greater scope to be heard. But there are few possibilities to overcome the information barrier and reach a broad public. Take Russia, where there is very little Internet censorship because the government feels it is unnecessary given that it controls the television, radio and even the newspapers. The Internet, however, is not really used by very many people.

Is there greater press freedom in 2008 than in 1995, before the Internet became a mass medium?

The fight for press freedom is ongoing. There is greater press freedom in countries where democratic movements have made progress. But press freedom can disappear overnight. There's no clear-cut answer to this question.

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