What is the most censored country

Moving Image and Political Education

Sebastian Schöbel-Matthey

Sebastian Schöbel-Matthey

Sebastian Schöbel-Matthey studied history and American studies at the HU-Berlin and worked for several years as an author for newspapers and news portals. He completed a multimedia traineeship at the electronic media school in Potsdam-Babelsberg, after which he worked for Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, where he worked as a reporter for Inforadio and as an editor for the news portal rbb-online. This was followed by regular assignments to the Berlin capital studio and a representation in the ARD studio in London. From February 2016 to February 2018 he was radio correspondent at the ARD studio in Brussels. He has been back at rbb since March 2018 and works as an editor for the new online portal rbb24 and as a correspondent in the political editorial team.

Germany is a country without censorship - at least that's what the Basic Law says. But is that also true? The Space Frogs take a closer look at the term "censorship" and wonder whether - and if so, where - there is censorship on the Internet.


Censorship is forbidden in Germany by the Basic Law: "There is no censorship", it says in Article 5: [1] Freedom of the press and the freedom of reporting "are guaranteed by radio and film". The basis is the freedom of expression, which is also laid down in Article 5: "Everyone has the right to freely express his or her opinion in words, writing and images."

A general distinction is made between preventive or pre-censorship and repressive or post-censorship: Either publications must be submitted to a censorship authority for approval before publication, or publications that have already appeared are confiscated in whole or in part, or their distribution is restricted or prohibited.
In Germany, freedom from censorship is defined as a prohibition of prior censorship. [2] The ban on censorship does not include subsequent restrictions in the form of control and repression measures. They can be enforced - for example by control authorities, by third party effects (e.g. temporary injunctions), in the form of self-censorship or by supervisory authorities [3]. It is always about content that violates applicable law.
Even in a democracy there is no absolute freedom of expression; it always only applies on the basis of existing laws and in consideration of other basic rights.

Freedom of expression is not limitless

Freedom of expression and freedom of publication are therefore limited, especially by press law, criminal law and the protection of minors. For example, insults, slander, sedition and denial of the Holocaust are prohibited. There are also requirements for the representation of violence or pornography, which the state controls and, if necessary, enforces by preventing the relevant content from being disseminated, publicly listed or advertised. The focus in Germany is primarily on the protection of minors, which the Federal Testing Office for Media Harmful to Young People (BpjM) takes on. The state media authorities also have a control function for private broadcasting.

Overall, the content control of journalistic content in Germany is mainly left to the voluntary self-control of the media. There is, among other things, the German Press Council, to which you can complain about alleged legal violations in newspaper and magazine articles, or the Voluntary Self-Control of the Film Industry (FSK), which takes care of the age rating of films and series. In both cases, the so-called distance from the state is the declared goal: not the governments of the federal states or the federal government should examine the content, but independent bodies that do not belong to any political grouping and therefore do not operate ideologically motivated censorship, but do this solely on the basis of the applicable laws.

The NetzDG: Requirements for Internet companies

Post-censorship is usually used on the Internet. Internet users usually experience this in the form of blocked or deleted comments or entries on Facebook or other social networks. The operators are now also obliged to do so through the Network Enforcement Act [4] - NetzDG for short - which was passed before the 2017 federal election. It is intended to help combat hate comments, incitement to hatred, insults and so-called "fake news" online. The NetzDG obliges platforms such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter to set up reporting procedures for offensive content and posts that are illegal to respond to a complaint within a few days to delete or block - in the case of obvious violations even within 24 hours. For example, by the summer of 2018, around 215,000 pieces of content were reported on YouTube based on the NetzDG and around 58,000 pieces of content were deleted, reports the parent company Google Information reported 265,000 tweets, mostly for sedition and libel, and approximately 29,000 tweets were deleted.

In this way, the corporations are fulfilling their legal obligations - and at the same time triggering a new debate. "Overblocking", the premature deletion or blocking of posts by overly cautious administrators, is now arousing the hearts of network activists. Because one of the side effects of the NetzDG could be the fear that companies would rather delete too much than too little in order not to risk high fines. This threatens "arbitrary restriction of freedom of expression", according to a report by the EU Parliament that was passed in May 2018. [5]

Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders are calling for an independent control of the deletion process on Facebook and Co. to be established. [6] The platforms have "become part of the modern public", on which people "have to be able to say anything that does not violate the law," said the non-governmental organization (NGO). "With the NetzDG, the federal government has turned private companies into judges on freedom of the press and freedom of information on the Internet," said a statement. The digital society association also criticizes the fact that the deletions of the Internet companies are not carried out transparently.

China and Turkey: Where the Internet Really Is Censored

However, there are also countries in the world in which state Internet censorship is carried out in a very concrete and obvious manner. However, it is not only directed against individual content, but is now leading more frequently[7] to the fact that complete offers are no longer accessible [8] or Internet access is restricted overall.

The current governments in Turkey and China show how far internet censorship can go - two countries in which, according to the independent NGO Reporters Without Borders [9], press freedom is massively restricted anyway.

In 2007 the so-called "Internet Act" was passed in Turkey. Officially, the law is directed against the distribution of child pornography, but observers such as the EU Commission [10] criticize the fact that it can also block entire websites with critical content. Since 2014 Internet providers have also been forced to block certain URLs and even individual IP addresses - which has enabled the Turkish government to block not only websites, but also the users directly. After the attempted coup in July 2016, they now also regulated data traffic and slowed down access to certain websites until they were hardly usable or no longer usable at all. This also affects Twitter, an important medium for the Turkish opposition [11].

Internet censorship is even more far-reaching in China. State interventions, such as the blocking of IP addresses, are referred to in the western media as the "Great Firewall of China". As a result, entire online services cannot be accessed in China. This applies to Facebook, Twitter and Google, but also the New York Times or the Amnesty International website. VPN tunnels that enable encrypted surfing are either blocked or regulated by the state. But what distinguishes Internet censorship in China from that in other countries is its effect on society: According to a study by Stanford University from 2015 to 2017 [12], the Chinese government "creates an environment in which citizens do not create at all get the idea "to look for critical information.

Netiquette is not censorship

Such conditions are hardly conceivable in Germany. Nevertheless, internet users repeatedly complain about alleged censorship in social media because their posts have been deleted or blocked there. Even in open and closed forums, administrators are regularly criticized for the fact that certain posts suddenly disappear - allegedly because of "censorship". What many users overlook is that many contributions are deleted not because of the opinion expressed, but because of the nature of the presentation. So it is often not the violations of applicable law that lead to deletion, but the violations of netiquette. And to put it in the words of the Space Frogs: Everyone can have their opinion, but if you yell them in people's faces, you can be kicked out.