The news about Russia’s Far East court’s decision to ban access to YouTube and three online libraries, Lib.rus.ec, Thelib.ru and Zhurnal.ru has been actively discussed online in both languages. According to the court, the reason for banning these sites is that they host extremist ideological materials such as a video called Russia for Russians, promoting nationalism and writings by Adolf Hitler.
I’ve been always curious about the question of Internet censorship in Russia and this story proves that it exists and puts the Internet in danger as the last uncensored medium in Russia.
Freedom of expression is the main condition for democracy. When a local court in Russia bans access to YouTube this means that they don’t respect the essence of the political system of their own country. The beauty of democracy is that everyone has the opportunity to choose their beliefs, lifestyle and to express their point of view. The Internet is a great tool for facilitating such an exchange. Obviously, racism is unacceptable behaviour and it should be taken seriously by the government. However, there is no need to ban an entire international website and those interested in learning about Nazi ideas will circumvent this obstacle.
Nowadays, all democratic counties face the problem of racism; however, I am not aware of any cases where access to YouTube was banned in EU or US. Despite the fact that many countries have been suffering from racial conflicts for a long time, they don’t ban online access to information on this topic, as they take into consideration the fact that everyone has the right to freedom of speech. Actually, this court’s ruling is unconstitutional as it breaches the right to freedom of information, guaranteed by Article 29 of Russia’s Constitution.
Today a court in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has applied the Soviet style censorship model, tomorrow other local authorities in Russia might follow their lead and start banning online content they find provocative or distributing. More likely, many Russians will support this idea as they are used to the fact that Soviet authorities controlled the information people have access to. I haven’t previously come across major cases of the Internet censorship in Russia and this one seems to be the boldest, banning a massive international site.
This story is an example of Russia’s vastness and how hard is to ensure that innovative ideas are introduced equally in all parts the country. While Dmitry Medvedev is actively promoting the Internet to the masses and watches Youtube himself, local authorities elsewhere in the province are banning access to such a popular website, including Medvedev’s channel. In the meantime, I can’t imagine that a court in Moscow would ban access to YouTube and leave the population and all businesses based in the capital without such a ubiquitous channel.
Hopefully, the Internet savvy Dmitry Medvedev will ask the court to reconsider their decision and people in Far East of Russia will once again have access to YouTube.