North Korea is threatening to retaliate against the United States over a Hollywood film portraying the assassination of Kim Jong-Un, saying it has “clear evidence” that Washington was heavily involved in devising the plot. “The Interview”, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, charts the exploits of two U.S. TV stars who gain an audience with Kim and are then recruited by the CIA to kill Kim. The fury that this film has sparked gives great lessons to those of us who tout “free speech” and engage in the media business professionally and personally through our own websites and social media accounts.
Personally, I’ve been held up in many international border crossings for having the word “media” on my business cards. Even though I didn’t enter countries as a journalist, the thought of foreign media has aroused suspicions by many immigration and customs officials.
Even today, The Communist Party of China engages in four mainstrategies for influencing international media:
Direct action by Chinese officials inside and outside China often obstruct gathering news and try to prevent the publication of undesirable content. If guidelines are ignored, there can be punishment.
Self- censorship is often rewarded with perks and economic benefits to media owners and their outlets headquartered outside mainland China.
There is often an indirect pressure applied. Proxies, advertisers, satellite firms, and foreign governments–sometimes take action to prevent or punish the publication of content critical of Beijing.
Then there are cyber attacks and physical assaults that are not entirely traceable to the Chinese authorities but serve the party’s aims nonetheless.
In France, there was a strong governmental control over radio and television in the 1950-’70s. Even today, filmmakers are given subsidies in France (and elsewhere in Europe for sending the “right messages).” American-made movies cost more than French films in the movie theater. Other laws prohibit homophobic hate speech, denial of holocaust and the advocacy of illegal drugs.
The CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) lists these five countries to have the most censorship: (from the CPJ website):
Eritrea — Only state news media are allowed to operate in Eritrea, and they do so under the complete direction of Information Minister Ali Abdu. Journalists are conscripted into their work and enjoy no editorial freedom.
North Korea — Nearly all the content of North Korea’s 12 main newspapers, 20 periodicals, and broadcasters comes from the official Korean Central News Agency and focuses on the political leadership’s statements and supposed activities. The public is limited to a heavily monitored and censored network with no connections to the outside world.
Syria — Since March 2011, the Assad regime has imposed a blackout on independent news coverage, barring foreign reporters from entering and reporting freely, and detaining and attacking local journalists who try to cover protests.
Iran — The government uses mass imprisonment of journalists as a means of silencing dissent and quashing critical news coverage. Iranian authorities maintain one of the world’s toughest Internet censorship regimes, blocking millions of websites, including news and social networking sites.
Equatorial Guinea — Obiang’s government tightly controls all news and information over national airwaves. State media do not provide international news coverage unless Obiang or another official travels abroad.
But lets not just look at censorship as a Third World phenomenon only, let’s remember the book first published in 1884 in the United Kingdom: Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” This book was first banned in 1885 in the Concord Massachusetts Public Library, according to Arthur Schlesinger. Twain’s book is still in jeopardy of censorship today. One can tune into debates on TV today and see scholars discussing Twain’s book.
Hate crimes and hate speech are on the forefront of free speech debates. When is speech free, and when is it designed to hurt someone? No, I don’t have the answers to these questions.
I merely point out that all countries debate and participate in censorship in some form.
What Does This Mean For International Business?
Now that we can see that media can arouse fear, we need to temper our “free speech” patriotism when we travel. Our social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook can be a pocket-sized indictment of the countries we visit.
We need to remember that we Americans embrace free speech (well, some free speech) but other countries may not. Thus getting into a political or even economic discussion over news and information we have been exposed to may have a poor reception elsewhere. Many of our negotiating counterparts may have not been exposed to the level of media we have seen, nor the variety.
Our counterparts may simply not believe the media which we hold so high.
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