A government exists to serve the people it represents, not to oppress that people and to stifle any kind of information exchange that might benefit said people in any way. So it has been in Egypt where, after protesters got together and started angrily demanding that their president step down, the government started shutting down communication with the outside world — from making use of their own internet ‘kill’ switch, blocking access to the internet to normal citizens to completely shutting down mobile cell phone service.
The news was the next to go. Al Jazeera, one of the news organizations covering stories and gathering information about what has been happening in Egypt, had several staff members briefly arrested and even had their offices shuttered in an effort to get their presence out of Egypt and to stifle the flow of truth from reaching the eager ears of the world. This being the case, the station has turned to the people of Egypt to serve as their eyes and ears through any kind of social media — online or otherwise — that they can use to get the news out about what is happening.
With its own news outlet cut off in Egypt, Al Jazeera is urging the country’s citizens to use blogs, social media, eyewitness accounts, and videos to tell the world what’s going as the protests against President Hosni Mubarak continue, according to the Associated Press.
Yesterday, the Arab news network’s Cairo office was closed down and its broadcast signal cut off to some parts of the Middle East following complaints by Egyptian authorities that Al Jazeera’s 24-hour coverage of the uprising was slanted toward the protesters and as such could incite more unrest.
The situation for news organizations was so bad at one point that even CNN anchor Anderson Cooper was physically assaulted while reporting the news.
Mr. Cooper and his producer and camera operator were all attacked in front of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo while trying to cover the uprising in Egypt. After several days of peaceful protest, pro-Mubarak supporters entered the square and turned the tone of the demonstrations toward deadly violence.
Reporting live with two other reporters who underwent violent attacks Wednesday and from a darkened and barricaded room for safety, Anderson Cooper told the AC360 audience on Wednesday night that the situation has turned more serious in Cairo.
In another move that is sure to help spread the news about the situation in Egypt, Al Jazeera has created a special page for organizations and individuals who wish to use video footage that they have released under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license — this means that people are free to use it for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.
Google followed with a move sure to spur many retweets and to further propagate the idea that I had that, under the right circumstances, Twitter can be quite useful in spreading information — they released a few telephone numbers that, if called, would allow Egyptians to leave a voice message which would then be turned into a Twitter update with the hash tag of Egypt. It is true, as pointed out by SuperGenius David Boles, that in every sense of the word, Twitter failed the social revolution — I posit, however, that it was still extremely useful in terms of keeping people outside of Egypt informed from an amateur perspective what was happening to the nation.
Even now as the full access to the Internet has been restored in Egypt we must be thankful that organizations such as Al Jazeera exist and come up with great ideas such as getting the people of Egypt to report on exactly what is happening to them. We must push forward with the notion that journalism cannot be stifled by the whims of a government bent on hushing its people who disagree with the way that the government is being run.