Efforts by the U.S. government to bolster independent media and an open Internet overseas are having significant impact, but face a lack of funding, growth in online censorship and surveillance and more attacks on journalists, says a report by the Center for International Media Assistance.
The CIMA’s report—Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster a Free Press and an Open Internet Around the World, Second Edition: 2012—says U.S. “media assistance success stories” have occurred with programs providing professional training, and those promoting citizen journalism and community radio.
In addition, digital media, such as cell phones and the Internet “are transforming the ability of citizen and professional journalists to promote (government) accountability,” the report says. “The global reach of digital technology has armed the public with tools hard to imagine even a decade ago,” said Marguerite Sullivan, CIMA’s senior director. “Not only are there tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos, but citizen journalists (are) armed with smart phones, mapping software, anti-censoring technology and more.”
However, the report says authoritarian governments are fighting back with increased Internet surveillance, censorship and attacks on those who publish online. “The counterattack by heavy-handed governments has led to a kind of digital arms race between repressive regimes and advocates of democracy and a free Internet,” the report says. Governments in more than 40 countries now censor the Internet, affecting about 500 billion users. In response, the U.S. spent about $76 million on Internet freedom initiatives from 2008 through 2011.