The World’s Sea of Repression
Is Ripe for Self Expression
By David Crumm,
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Visiting the Newseum, the world’s greatest shrine to media freedom in the world’s most powerful capital, I was stopped in my tracks at the giant Press Freedom Map in which most of the world is bathed in red—meaning that self expression is repressed in those lands.
Over the past week, we all got a glimpse of the newest TIME 100—the news magazine’s annual list of The World’s Most Influential People. Did you notice how many religious and ethnic minorities made it into the list this year? Did you catch that many men and women on the list are masters in new forms of media?
Here’s the startling fact: Just as we all are mesmerized by the Arab spring, there’s an even larger sea of repressive red around the world that is ripe for the blossoming of irrepressible voices. This emerging power of self-expression is falling into billions of palms around the world.
What TIME Sees So Clearly
No. 1 on TIME’s list is Wael Ghonim, the young Egyptian new-media executive who stirred up his fellow Egyptians at a crucial moment in their revolution. TIME writes: “Over the past year, Wael, 30, began working outside the box to make his peers understand that only their unstoppable people power could affect real change. He quickly grasped that social media, notably Facebook, were emerging as the most powerful communication tools to mobilize and develop ideas.”
The same could be said of the controversial evangelist Rob Bell who we have covered extensively and who wound up with the likes of Ghonim, Joe Biden, Michelle Obama and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi high on the list. On Bell, TIME wrote: “Wielding music, videos and a Starbucks sensibility, Bell is at the forefront of a rethinking of Christianity in America. Traditionalists don’t like what they’re seeing.”
Of course they don’t; that’s the nature of a true revolution fueled by this kind of uncontrollable self-expression.
What the Newseum Sees So Ominously
I was mesmerized by the Newseum’s Press Freedom Map, because I had assumed that the state of expression had progressed much further since the fall of Communism more than 20 years ago. The Newseum also provides a fascinating interactive version of this map online, which invites readers to click on individual countries and learn more about the situation.
Among the bright-red nations: Click on Russia and you’ll find a score of 81. The scale runs from 0, which means there are no restrictions on media, to 100, which means media is completely hamstrung—and lives are at stake. Despite assurances of freedom in the Russian constitution, Russian politicians and crime bosses have media largely locked down. The government owns two national newspapers, nearly two-thirds of magazines and all six national TV networks—not to mention two national radio networks. Nevertheless, some courageous journalists continue to spread the news—and two dozen of those men and women have been murdered over the past 10 years.
You’ll find even more chilling details as you click through red countries. Make sure, in particular, to check out the “Media Scene” tab for individual entries.
What PEW Sees Coming So Rapidly
As we have reported in earlier stories, powerful hand-held devices are circling the globe at an explosive rate—largely because cell-phone networks can move faster across poor countries than hard-wired electrical grids or clean-water systems. Cell-phones can be recharged on a motorcycle—or clustered around an old car battery in a remote village’s charging stand.
In the U.S., cell phones now are almost universal among Americans under 75. It’s true that the much-heralded hand-held readers like Kindle and Nook—and tablets like the iPad—are only in about 1-out-of-20 Americans’ hands. But the new data summarized in Pew’s “Generations and their gadgets” report shows that Americans are choosing ever-more-mobile devices with growing power to grab information—and to send back our own self expression. For example, about 3 out of 4 of us regularly take photos and text messages on our phones!
Pew concludes, “Younger adults are leading the way in increased mobility, preferring laptops to desktops and using their cell phones for a variety of functions, including Internet, email, music games and video.”
In other words, our story has just looped back around to where we started, above, in describing the world as ripe for the blossoming of self-expression.
You can read the entire Generations and their Gadgets report at the Pew website by clicking here (or on the graphic at right). Pew also provides a link to download the entire 20-page report in PDF format.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.