The group Reporters Without Borders has released a new guidebook that tells people how they can write personal Internet journals, or weblogs, and evade government censorship at the same time. The manual has been published in five languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi and French). It is available for purchase or downloadable free on the group's website, RSF.org.
A web log, more popularly known as a blog, may be the ultimate form of democratic expression. It is often a hybrid between a personal journal and a guide to other sites on the World Wide Web that are of relevance to the person running the blog.
In most instances, anybody can run a blog, anybody with a computer that is hooked up to the Internet can read it and it can be about anything. Also, there is no limit to the size of the cyberspace audience, from a relatively small family newsletter to an international mainstream discussion group.
Through blogs, ordinary people can voice their own, unfiltered, points of view. Because these opinions sometime include dissatisfaction with the government, countries like China and Iran have become notorious for trying to control blogging.
With its new "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents," though, Reporters Without Borders wants to give bloggers in these countries more tools to help get around government surveillance. Julien Pain says the group intentionally chose to publish the manual in Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi and French, to reach as many people as possible.
"We chose the languages because we wanted to help people, and the people that needed to be helped were Chinese-speaking person, Farsi-speaking person and Arabic-speaking person," said Mr. Pain. "In these countries, the censorship was so heavy that you need technical skills to circumvent the censorship and to be able to publish things anonymously."
In countries where free speech is curtailed and the government controls the mainstream media, Mr. Pain says bloggers may be the true journalists.
"In countries such as China and Iran, you have to be brave to publish political content online," he added. "You know, it's not a hobby. It's a necessity, if you see what I mean. It's not like when you're blogging about your dog or your grandmother in France or in the United States."
Meantime, he points to countries like China, as an example of a place where controls over free speech are not loosening, even though more Chinese are becoming computer literate. He adds that he believes western companies have lost opportunities to apply pressure on governments like Beijing, because they are all solely interested in making money.
"These Internet giants, the Americans and the Chinese, they're just talking about business opportunities and how to develop their firms, but it's difficult to have a dialogue with them on human rights issues," he explained.
Mr. Pain estimates that there are about 30,000 bloggers among Iran's 69 million people. He said he does not know the exact number of bloggers among China's 1.3 billion people, but said he believes the number is in the tens of thousands.