LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

Withdrawing from the world: ICTs and censorship

LIRNEasia’s focus is infrastructure, so we don’t write much about censorship and such, except when it becomes unavoidable. There are plenty of entities that have censorship as the primary focus, but few who deal with our specialization. Yet, we are increasingly being dragged into this area, as when our book on ICT infrastructure was detained in the Sri Lanka Customs under some unstated provision, when SMS was shut down on Independence Day and so on.

In the midst of the controversy about Google threatening to withdraw from China because of their approach to censorship, it was mentioned in the NYT that some Chinese twitters saw it as a withdrawal from the world by China, not as a withdrawal of Google from China:

China promptly tried to censor the ensuing debate about its censorship, but many Chinese Twitter users went out of their way to praise Google. One from Guangdong declared: “It’s not Google that’s withdrawing from China, it’s China that’s withdrawing from the world.”

There has been an unfortunate tendency for the Sri Lanka government, at least the parts of it responsible for the issuance of visas to withdraw from the world in a similar manner.

Last year, before the LIRNEasia@5 conference that brought close to a 100 people from abroad to Sri Lanka and allowed them to see with their own eyes that there was no blood letting going on, I invited some Canadian journalists to come by and cover some positive stories for a change. I was then informed by the Toronto Star correspondent that he would be glad to come but that the Consulate in Toronto was refusing to issue him a visa until the Star changed its attitude toward Sri Lanka.

Zimbabwe has tried this method for years and all they get is negative coverage. Recently, an intelligent consular official gave a visa to Vikas Bajaj from the New York Times and the result was a wonderful story about a Sri Lankan success in niche marketing. Should I try again to see if the stupid official in Toronto has seen the light? Or is this still a case of Sri Lanka withdrawing from the world?

Oh, and by the way, Mr Consular Official, I got the story covered even without your visa.

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