My colleague Ethan Zuckerman, with whom I co-founded Global Voices, is a technologist and an Africa specialist, among many other things. He just returned from Zimbabwe and has written a series of excellent posts. His third post looks at the media situation. The Mugabe regime employes a variety of mechanisms to control journalists and censor media. But the most effective information control is economic: most people can't afford to access international news media anyway. And even if they could, few foreign reporters are able to report from Zimbabwe for the most part, due to government restrictions. So most international coverage of Zimbabwe is second-hand. As a result, he concludes:
What’s really going on in Zimbabwe? I don’t know. Neither do you. And neither do most Zimbabweans, whether they live at home or abroad. Reading the BBC or CNN won’t help - they’re not on the ground here either. And like every other situation in Zimbabwe, it’s both better and worse than you’ve heard.
This post about Zimbabwe's Internet examines the facts and fictions about Internet access in Zimbabwe. Ethan ran some tests and discovered that the Zimbabwean government does not actually filter sensitive websites, as the Chinese do, despite some rumors that they do. But government talk about plans to filter and monitor people's internet communications in the future, Ethan says, has already changed people's behavior. He writes: "While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Internet filtering take root in Zimbabwe, the odd thing is that the government may not need to filter the ‘net - threatening to may be sufficient."
Ethan also reports that Internet access in Zim is painfully slow because the ISP's have trouble coming up with the hard currency to pay their bills to Intelsat, which provides them with their Internet access. "So Intelsat is radically throttling Zimbabwe’s access to their satellites."
It's ironic that in third-world dictatorships where people have a great need for independent information available on the Internet, the economics of global telecoms not only help to keep the dictators in power but also help keep those countries poor because communications are so business-unfriendly - a vicious cycle of nasty proportions.
As many of us celebrate OneWeb Day today... perhaps we should consider that we don't really have one global web at all. It would be really nice if the web was dissolving borders between Zimbabweans and those of us in the Western developed world... but the offline economic, political, and geographical realities are making that rather difficult.
Ethan has two other posts: his personal experiences with Zimbabwe's currency crisis and some lovely photos.