Press freedom is under attack globally. Meet the journalists, activists and musicians fighting censorship through a digital loophole: music streaming sites
15 Marzo 2018 16:42
Press freedom is a benchmark of a free society. And it is increasingly coming under attack globally. With ‘fake news’ being Collins Dictionary’s word(s) of the year in 2017 and amateur-in-chief Donald Trump’s favourite weapon at his disposal, accurate and credible reporting has never felt so urgent. But what happens when you live in a country, or society, that severely restricts autonomous journalism? How do you empower its people with the truth forbidden and manufactured by authoritarian governments? You get creative.
Uncensored Playlist is a clever antidote to state censorship through the use of music streaming sites. Reporters Without Borders Germany (RWBG) has teamed up with five independent - often exiled - journalists for a project aimed at filtering censored articles back into their countries of origin. RWBG identified a digital loophole: although press freedom may not be available in the world’s most oppressed societies, global music streaming sites are. With the help of a musical director, Lucas Mayer, and filmographer Iris Fuzaro, 10 articles that had been previously censored were turned into 10 uncensored pop songs. You can now stream the Uncensored Playlist album on Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer.
One of the journalists involved with the project is Chang Ping, real name Zhang Ping, one of China’s most prominent commentators on contemporary affairs. Ping battled against the ‘brainwash machine’ of China’s Communist Party while working for 30 years in some of the country’s most influential news organisations. However, after publishing a number of articles expressing attitudes of dissent (for example, on the Tibet minorities’ rights) and criticisms of the Chinese government’s ideology, Ping had his right to write stripped from him, forcing him to take exile in Germany where he has lived for six years. ‘Freedom Cage’ is his musical testimony to the truth:
Freedom is dying
The mystery is bigger than we know
We live in denial
In rooms of dirt
We look at monitors
So the work is left undone
For Ping, the idea of freedom in China is framed within the confines of a cage. ‘A cage that is becoming smaller and smaller,’ he argues. There is a sense of freedom among China’s people as long as they don’t poke or prod at the country’s power structures - the idea that if you don’t question, don’t challenge, you can ‘have a nice life’. Ping disagrees, however; a life without truth can never really mean liberation.
Censorship in China is increasing since leader Xi Jinping’s widening of absolute power, he says. A system of intimidation, isolation and harassment by police works to silence the voices of reporters, thus trampling on calls for democratisation or opposition. After Ping moved to Germany, his father and siblings living in China’s Sichuan province were arrested and interrogated in an attempt to force him to delete critical articles online, essentially holding them as political hostages. He refused. ‘For my family it is very difficult to deal with and I am sorry for that,’ he explains, ‘But I wanted to show the government that their tactics don’t always work. You do feel physically, mentally and psychologically isolated though.’ Ping’s family are angry with him, with some relatives calling him ‘unfilial’, but it’s a price he has to pay in the fight for freedom.
This journalist has experienced firsthand how crucial a media circus is to brainwash en masse. Ping likens it to a machine, whereby every word, every ‘opinion’, is disseminated through the lens of the Communist Party. ‘From the editor to the journalist, it is is all controlled by the government.’ That’s why filtering his work back into his home country via music is one of the only options right now. Ping’s second (and final) song in the Uncensored Playlist album, entitled ‘Speech Is Freedom Itself’, was taken from his acceptance speech for the CJFE 2016 International Press Freedom Award in 2016. It details the brutality with which freedom of expression is punished in dictatorial systems.
Freedom, peace, human rights, democracy, civil society
Constitutionalism, independence, these things that take your breath away
Are frightening words that back in my place have sent people to their death
They say it’s all part of a plot
But time goes by, and it’s not, it’s not
Speech is freedom itself
Don’t let it be an old book on your shelf
According to Ping, Uncensored Playlist was being shared on Chinese social media and online communities when it launched on March 12. The internet is a sort of double-edged sword in the push and pull between state censorship and ready access to information. It’s hard to imagine how any government can wholly quash events and dialogues happening outside their country given the ubiquity of internet use and software like VPNs. What powerhouses such as China’s Communist Party can do though, says Ping, is use information from the outside in their favour. They spread propaganda about the downfall of democracy and use this tool of freedom to further indoctrinate its citizens.
And yet, like with Uncensored Playlist, truth can - and does - find a way. You just have to trick the system.
The album also includes musical interpretations of articles written by Bui Thanh Hieu, from Vietnam, Galima Bukharbaeva, from Uzbekistan, Prachatai, from Thailand, and Basma Abdelaziz, from Egypt. To download the album or stream it, visit the website here.