What’s the taboo? Winter magazine 2015/16

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What’s taboo today? It might depend where you live, your culture, your religion, or who you’re talking to. The latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine explores worldwide taboos in all their guises, and why they matter. Comedians Shazia Mirza and David Baddiel look at tackling tricky subjects for laughs; Alastair Campbell explains why we can’t be silent on mental health; and Saudi Arabia’s first female feature-film director Haifaa Al Mansour speaks out on breaking boundaries with conservative audiences.

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Plus a crackdown on porn and showing your cleavage in China; growing up in Germany with the ghosts of WW2; what you can and can’t say in Israel and Palestine; and the argument for not editing racism out of old films. As the anniversary of Charlie Hebdo murders approaches, we also have a special section of cartoonists from around the world who have drawn taboos from their homelands – from nudity, atheism and death to domestic violence and necrophilia.

Also in this issue, Mark Frary explores the secret algorithms controlling the news we see, Natasha Joseph interviews the Swaziland editor who took on the king and ended up in prison, and Duncan Tucker speaks to radio journalists who lost their jobs after investigating presidential property deals in Mexico.
And in our culture section, Chilean author Ariel Dorfman looks at the power of music as resistance in an exclusive short story, which is finally seeing the light after 50 years in the pipeline. We have fiction from young writers in Burma tackling changing rules in times of transition, and there’s newly translated poetry written from behind bars in Egypt, amid the continuing crackdown on peaceful protest.

Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship fight for free expression worldwide. Order your copy here, or take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions (just £18 for the year).

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Why breaking down social barriers matters

Stand up to taboos – Shazia Mirza and David Baddiel on how comedy tackles the no-go subjects

The reel world – Nikki Baughan interviews female film directors Susanne Bier and Haifaa Al Mansour, from Denmark and Saudi Arabia

Not just hot air – Kaya Genç goes inside Turkey’s right-wing satire magazine Püff

Slam session Péter Molnár speaks to fellow Hungarian slam poets about what they can and can’t say

Whereof we cannot speak – Regula Venske on growing up in Germany after WWII

China’s XXX factor – Jemimah Steinfeld investigates a crackdown on porn and cleavage

Pregnant, in danger and scared to speak – Nina Lakhani and Goretti Horgan on abortion laws and social stigma in El Salvador and Ireland

Airbrushing racism – Kunle Olulode explores the problems of erasing racist words from books and films

Why are we whispering? Alastair Campbell on why discussing mental illness still makes some people uncomfortable

Shouting about sex (workers) – Ian Dunt looks at the debate where everyone wants to silence each other

The history man – Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi explains how he has no regrets, despite causing outrage after taking Palestinian students to Auschwitz

Provoking Putin Oleg Kashin on how new laws are silencing Russians

Quiet zone: a global cartoon special – Featuring taboo-busting illustrations from Bonil, Dave Brown, Osama Eid Hajjaj, Fiestoforo, Ben Jennings, Khalil Rhaman, Martin Rowson, Brian John Spencer, Padrag Srbljanin, Toad and Vilma Vargas

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Reining in power – Natasha Joseph talks to the Swaziland editor who took on the king

Whose world are you watching?Mark Frary explores the secret algorithms controlling the news we see

Bloggers behind bars – Ismail Einashe interviews Ethiopia’s Zone 9 bloggers

Mexican airwaves – Duncan Tucker speaks to radio journalists who were shut down after investigating presidential property deals

Head to head – Bassey Etim and Tom Slater debate whether website moderators are the new censors

Off the map – Irene Caselli on how some of the poorest people in Buenos Aires fought back against Argentina’s mainstream media

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The rocky road to transition Ellen Wiles introduces new fiction by young Burmese writers Myay Hmone Lwin and Pandora

Sounds of solidarity Chilean author Ariel Dorfman presents his short story on the power of music as resistance

Poetry from a prisoner – Omar Hazek shares his verses written in an Egyptian jail and translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

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Global view – Index on Censorship’s CEO, Jodie Ginsberg, on the pull between extremism legislation, free speech and terrorism

Index around the world – Josie Timms presents Index’s latest work and events

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”END NOTE” css=”.vc_custom_1481880278935{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-top: 15px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]

Don’t judge a reader by their book  – Vicky Baker on the danger of owning or reading certain texts

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”SUBSCRIBE” css=”.vc_custom_1481736449684{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship magazine was started in 1972 and remains the only global magazine dedicated to free expression. Past contributors include Samuel Beckett, Gabriel García Marquéz, Nadine Gordimer, Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and many more.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”76572″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]In print or online. Order a print edition here or take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions.

Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), Calton Books (Glasgow) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

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Online privacy as an active pursuit

Illustration: Shutterstock

Illustration: Shutterstock

I had arranged to meet ‘Emma’ in a cafe, at the behest of a mutual friend. As a student of forensic computing informatics, I was asked to help educate Emma about online privacy, a particular passion of mine.

Emma is an unassuming 24-year-old. Nothing about her physical appearance  or mannerisms would divulge anything of the abuse she was subjected to at the hands of a former boyfriend.

She explained that she had experienced on-going violence while in a three-year relationship. Her partner had physically, verbally and emotionally abused her. In addition, her former boyfriend monitored and restricted her access to the Internet.

“I didn’t have anything private. I couldn’t do anything without him asking something about my behaviour, or my intentions, or whatever else I was doing. It was physical and psychological entrapment at its worst.” she said.

For Emma, our meeting was about learning to use tools to take control of her privacy in an age of mass monitoring. She was taking back the capabilities that were torn from her by her abusive boyfriend, by becoming empowered to protect herself in the on-line sphere.

During our conversation, I shared various techniques and tools she could use to browse sites anonymously, and I explained the concepts and principles of privacy-enhancing technologies – software including Tor and I2P (Invisible Internet Project), which would enable her to protect her identity.

Unsurprisingly, Emma has become extremely protective of her access to the Internet; a residual scar of the control she found herself being subjected to.

I was mindful also that it was the first opportunity I’d had which humanised a subject I’m deeply passionate about – often ascribed crypto-anarchism – to effect meaningful, beneficial change to someone else’s life. It also acted as a sobering realisation of the technological capabilities and opportunities available to ordinary citizens to thwart mass surveillance perpetrated by the National Security Agency, GCHQ and their ilk.

Technology has shifted traditional notions of personal privacy in unforeseen ways. We’ve entered a new world order, in which tools of oppression and exploitation are often pointed inward by a state acting as the abusive partner.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Duncan Campbell’s Secret Society episode We’re All Data New: Secret Data Banks, broadcast 26 years ago. It detailed swathes of information being held on the entire populace of Britain in private sector databases; specifically I recalled the horror on the faces of unwitting participants, as Campbell accessed sensitive personal information from a computer terminal with minimal effort.

Councils sell copies of that data for a pittance nowadays; it’s the electoral register. In comparison to today’s data brokers, behemoth custodians of in-depth data held about each and every one of us, the private databases of yesteryear seem almost quaint. Surveillance is as ubiquitous as ever, and so pervasive that it is has merged into an almost indecipherable cacophony from data-mining business models to gluttonous mass surveillance by the government and its agents. Each has a thread in common, a fundamental component.


Or, of most concern to me during our meeting, Emma.

Often the stakes and associated risk of using modern technologies are magnified considerably for those suffering from physical harm, psychological abuse or harassment. This is especially true in those fearful of seeking information or resources in genuine confidence – a capability cherished by those in such strained circumstances. As I listened to her experiences, I grasped from Emma’s tone she was afraid of exposing herself to potential further abuse.

“In some countries,” I told her, “I’d be considered dangerous. The skills I’m teaching you wouldn’t be tolerated, much less encouraged.”

In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, spearheaded by Glen Greenwald, Laura Poitras and The Guardian, of the activities of the United States’ NSA and United Kingdom’s GCHQ, it has become imperative that the sociological impacts of surveillance be recognised and addressed directly, if societies are to protect each and every one of its participants from such endemic spying.

But, too often, the insipid encroachment is interpreted solely as a technological problem, by which it is assumed surveillance must be countered wholly by the same. While technology is a component of a solution, it cannot derail the potential for abuse on its own.

Ultimately, the answer to surveillance on a personal or societal level demands a radical overhaul of attitudes and perceptions. People must share information, techniques and tools to help one-another protect their civil liberties. People must encourage each other to cherish their online and offline privacy. Technological mutual solidarity if you will. Ecosystems and privacy-enhancing technologies such as Tor and I2P, amongst a plethora of others, cater for this exact idealism; privacy by design, rather than by public policy.

Because it isn’t just about personal privacy anymore; nor was it, in fact, ever. It too is about dignity, morality and using technology as a vehicle to emancipate, to facilitate, and to embellish an underlying respect for individuals as citizens, and – especially in Emma’s circumstance – their sanctity as human beings.

Actively manage YOUR online privacy

Tor Project

Privacy-enhancing technology ecosystem, which enables users to communicate and browse anonymously, and circumvent internet censorship by routing traffic via intermediate nodes before transmitted to the intended site; prevents third parties from discovering a user’s location or their browsing habits.


Software that has similar capabilities to Tor in permitting anonymous or pseudonymous browsing. Can be used as standalone or in conjunction with other pieces of software to enhance a user’s ability to ensure communications remain as confidential as possible. Also contains web-based email among other features within its operating environment, which is accessible only via I2P itself.


A Live CD-based operating system, comprising of an entire operating environment, and contains both the aforementioned tools and additional software without disclosing evidence of its use, as it is self-contained on a DVD-R and operates in RAM, erasing evidence of its presence once a machine is switched off.

Off-the-Record Messaging

An instant messenger plug-in, and cryptographic protocol which is used to create secure instant messaging sessions between users in such a manner that conversations are plausibly deniable and affords for confidential, private communication between participants.

This article was published on 24 January 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

EU lacks a coherent strategy on free expression in digital sphere

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

This article is part of a series based on our report, Time to Step Up: The EU and freedom of expression

The EU has made a number of positive contributions to digital freedom: it plays a positive part in the global debate on internet governance; the EU’s No-Disconnect Strategy, its freedom of expression guidelines and its export controls on surveillance equipment have all be useful contributions to the digital freedom debate, offering practical measures to better protect freedom of expression. Comparatively, some of the EU’s member states are amongst the world’s best for protecting online freedom. The World Wide Web Foundation places Sweden at the top of its 2012 Index of internet growth, utility and impact, with the UK, Finland, Norway and Ireland also in the top 10. Freedom House ranks all EU member states as “free”, and an EU member state, Estonia, ranks number one globally in the organisation’s annual survey, “Freedom in the World”. But these indices merely represent a snapshot of the situation and even those states ranked as free fail to fully uphold their freedom of expression obligations, online as well as offline.

As the recent revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden have exposed, although EU member states may in public be committed to a free and open internet, in secret, national governments have been involved in a significant amount of surveillance that breaches international human rights norms, as well as these governments’ own legal commitments. It is also the case that across the EU, other issues continue to chill freedom of expression, including the removal or takedown of legitimate content.

The EU’s position on digital freedom is analysed in more detail in Index on Censorship’s policy paper “Is the EU heading in the right direction on digital freedom?” The paper points out that the EU still lacks a coherent overarching strategy and set of principles for promoting and defending freedom of expression in the digital sphere.


Recent revelations by former US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden into the NSA’s PRISM programme have also exposed that mass state surveillance by EU governments is practised within the EU, including in the UK and France.

Mass or blanket surveillance contravenes Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) and Article 10 (the right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In its jurisprudence, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stated that surveillance, if conducted without adequate judicial oversight and with no effective safeguards against abuse, will never be compatible with the European Convention.[1]

This state surveillance also breaches pledges EU member states have made as part of the EU’s new cybersecurity strategy, which was agreed in February 2013 and addresses mass state surveillance. The Commission stated that cybersecurity is predominantly the responsibility of member states, an approach some have argued gives member states the green light for increased government surveillance. Because the strategy explicitly states that “increased global connectivity should not be accompanied by censorship or mass surveillance”, member states were called upon to address their adherence to this principle at the European Council meeting on 24th October 2013. The Council was asked to address revelations that external government surveillance efforts, such as the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme, undermining EU citizens’ rights to privacy and free expression. While the Council did discuss surveillance, as yet there has been no common EU position on these issues.

At the same time, the EU has also played a role in laying the foundations for increased surveillance of EU citizens. In 2002, the EU e-Privacy Directive introduced the possibility for member states to pass laws mandating the retention of communications data for security purposes. In 2006, the EU amended the e-Privacy Directive by enacting the Data Retention Directive (Directive 2006/24/EC), which obliges member states to require communications providers to retain communications data for a period of between six months and two years, which could result in member states collecting a pool of data without specifying the reasons for such practice. A number of individual member states, including Germany, Romania and the Czech Republic, have consulted the European Convention on Human Rights and their constitutions and have found that the mass retention of individual data through the Data Retention Directive to be illegal.

While some EU member states are accused of colluding in mass population surveillance, others have some of the strongest protections anywhere globally to protect their citizens against surveillance. Two EU member states, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, require that  individuals who are placed under secret surveillance to be notified. Other EU member states have expanded their use of state surveillance, in particular Austria, the UK and Bulgaria. Citizens of Poland are subject to more phone tapping and surveillance than any other citizens in the European Union; the European Commission has claimed the police and secret services accessed as many as 1,300,000 phone bills in 2010 without any oversight either by the courts or the public prosecutor.

Internet governance

At a global level the EU has argued for no top-down state control of internet governance. There are efforts by a number of states including Russia, China and Iran to increase state control of the internet through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The debate on global internet governance came to a head at the Dubai World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) summit at the end of 2012 which brought together 193 member states. At the WCIT, a number of influential emerging democratic powers aligned with a top-down approach with increased state intervention in the governance of the internet. On the other side, EU member states, India and the US argued the internet should remain governed by an open and collaborative multistakeholder approach. The EU’s influence could be seen through the common position adopted by the member states. The European Commission as a non-voting WCIT observer produced a common position for member states that opposed any new treaty on internet governance under the UN’s auspices. The position ruled out any attempts to make the ITU recommendations binding and would only back technology neutral proposals – but made no mention of free expression. The absence of this right is of concern as other rights including privacy (which was mentioned) do not always align with free speech. After negotiations behind closed doors, all 27 EU member states and another 28 countries including the US abstained from signing the final treaty. That states with significant populations and rising influence in their regions did not back the EU and leant towards more top-down control of the internet should be of significant concern for the EU.

Intermediate liability, takedown and filtering

European laws on intermediate liability, takedown and filtering are overly vague in defining what constitutes valid and legitimate takedown requests, which can lead to legal uncertainty for both web operators and users. Removal of content without a court order can be problematic as it places the content host in the position of judge and jury over content and inevitably leads to censorship of free expression by private actors. EU directorate DG MARKT[2] is currently looking into the results of a public consultation into how takedown requests affect freedom of expression, among other issues. It is expected that the directorate will outline a directive or communication on the criteria takedown requests must meet and the evidence threshold required, while also clarifying how “expeditiously” intermediaries must act to avoid liability. A policy that clarifies companies’ legal responsibilities when presented with takedown requests should help better protect online content from takedown where there is no legal basis for the complaint.

The EU must take steps to protect web operators from vexatious claims from individuals over content that is not illegal. Across the EU, the governments of member states are increasingly using takedown requests. Google has seen a doubling of requests from the governments of Germany, Hungary, Poland and Portugal from 2010-2012; a 45% increase from Belgium and double-digit growth in the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. Governments are taking content down for dubious reasons that may infringe Article 10 rights of the ECHR. In 2010, a number of takedown requests were made in response to ‘”government criticism” and four in response to “religious offence”. A significant 8% of takedown requests were in response to defamation offences. With regard to defamation charges, it must be noted that the public interest is not protected equally across all EU countries (see Defamation above).

Although corporate takedown is more prevalent than state takedown, particularly in the number of individual URLs affected, the outcome of the DG MARKT consultation must be to address both vexatious state and corporate takedown requests. The new communication or directive must be clearer than the EU e-Commerce directive has been with respect to the responsibility of member states. While creating a legal framework that was intended to protect internet intermediaries, the EU e-Commerce directive has failed to be entirely effective in a number of high-profile cases. EU member states use filters to prevent the distribution of child pornography with questionable effectiveness. However, filters have not been used by states to block other content after a Court of Justice of the European Union ruling stated EU law did not allow states to require internet service providers to install filtering systems to prevent the illegal distribution of content. The Court made it clear at the time that such filtering would require ISPs to monitor internet traffic, an infringement under EU law. This has granted European citizens strong protections against systematic web filtering on behalf of states. There continue to be legal attempts to force internet intermediaries to block content that is already in the public domain. In a recent case, brought by the Spanish Data Protection authority on behalf of a complainant, the authority demanded that the search engine Google remove results that pointed to an auction note for a reposessed home due to social security debts. The claimant insisted that referring to his past debts infringed on his right to privacy and asked for the search results to be removed. In June 2013, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice decided Google did not need to comply to the request to block “legal and legitimate information that has entered the public domain” and that it is not required to remove information posted by third parties. Google has estimated that there are 180 cases similar to this one in Spain alone. A final decision in the case is expected before the end of this year, which could have profound implications for intermediate liability.

[1] In Liberty v. UK (58243/00) the ECHR stated: “95. In its case-law on secret measures of surveillance, the Court has developed the following minimum safeguards that should be set out in statute law in order to avoid abuses of power: the nature of the offences which may give rise to an interception order; a definition of the categories of people liable to have their telephones tapped; a limit on the duration of telephone tapping; the procedure to be followed for examining, using and storing the data obtained; the precautions to be taken when communicating the data to other parties; and the circumstances in which recordings may or must be erased or the tapes destroyed”; A. v. France (application no. 14838/89), 23.11.1993: found a violation of Article 8 after a recording was carried out without following a judicial procedure and which had not been ordered by an investigating judge; Drakšas v. Lithuania, 31.07.2012, found a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) on account of the absence of a judicial review of the applicant’s surveillance after 17 September 2003.

[2] The Internal Market and Services Directorate General

Is Reddit censoring climate change deniers?


San Fransisco based Reddit.com made headlines when it allegedly banned climate change deniers from posting on the site.

UK-based freedom of speech advocate Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked magazine, claimed it had “shredded its own reputation” in a piece for The Telegraph, while James Delingpole, a right-wing commentator for The Spectator delivered a hot-blooded attack on the policy via Fox News website – “The greenies — and their many useful idiots in the liberal media — are terrified of open debate on climate-change because the real world evidence long ago parted company with their scientifically threadbare theory.”

Reddit is a huge online links directory and lively discussion board, with a reputation for scale, wit, lack of censorship and a strong sense of community. Over eighty million monthly unique visitors, two hundred and sixty million comments to date and a presence in one hundred and eighty countries are some of the stats that led Conde Nast to buy the company a year after it was launched in 2005. Last year, analysts valued it at over $200 million dollars. It’s no Facebook or Twitter in terms of publicity attracted, but it gets more traffic than CNN, and the Guardian.com’s monthly readership could fit into Reddit’s three times over.

It’s the famed lack of censorship that has lead opinion writers on both side of the Atlantic to point out this new policy on climate change denial.

For those who haven’t visited, the site is divided up into sub-reddits–links and discussions, which are classified according to themes, and run by unpaid volunteers.

“TIL,” shorthand for “Today I Learned,” offers obscure trivia and little known facts. “foreignpolicy” offers links and discussion on international relations, defence and diplomacy. “foodforthought” collates links to thought-provoking essays. There are subreddits for jokes, celebrity gossip, memes and funny videos – for agony aunts and video gaming.

In fact, rather than reddit.com having banned climate change skeptics, it’s the moderators of the “/r/science” reddit who have instigated the ban. Run by volunteers, it collects links about new research and scientific articles.

“/r/science is not the beginning or the end of internet discussion”, defends Carl Ellstrom from Sweden – a reddit user, scientist and moderator of the science subreddit. “Users who are banned from /r/science are not banned from reddit, and can discuss their opinions in other subreddits.”

While it’s not the beginning or the end, /r/science still attracts millions of visitors each month. So the decision to ban climate change scepticism is of note.

Typical of their profession–other moderators backed up the decision by citing research–97% of climate scientists agree that man is changing the planet, according to a report from the respected Institute of Physics.

The move principally revolved around aggressive and repeated comments, which a small group of malicious users were posting on every article or piece of research concerned with climate change. Their allegations generally focused on conspiracy theories, didn’t address the article with constructive, focused criticism, were repetitive and, critically, had a disproportionate silencing effect on any discussion.

“These problematic users were not the common ‘internet trolls’ looking to have a little fun upsetting people,” explains Nathan Allen, a PhD chemist with a major chemical company and reddit moderator who wrote for The Guardian.

“These people were true believers, blind to the fact that their arguments were hopelessly flawed, the result of cherry-picked data and conspiratorial thinking. They had no idea that the smart-sounding talking points from their preferred climate blog were, even to a casual climate science observer, plainly wrong. They were completely enamoured by the emotionally charged and rhetoric-based arguments of pundits on talk radio and Fox News.”

Expanding on that last point Allen says the same comparison could be made with the climate change denial lobby in general, and their disproportionate influence on the press.

“Like our commenters, professional climate change deniers have an outsized influence in the media and the public. And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality.”

He ends his piece with a deliberate challenge to the editors of the world’s largest websites

“If a half-dozen volunteers can keep a page with more than 4 million users from being a microphone for the antiscientific, is it too much to ask for newspapers to police their own editorial pages as proficiently?”

If Allen’s suggestion was ever to be noticed and accepted by editors–he ramifications for freedom of speech and media censorship would be radical. Editors might be forced to ignore lobbying from certain spheres of belief, or might miss out on important stories.

But UK research published earlier in the year, shows the disproportionate effect on distorting the truth that having a free and open press creates.

On average, Brits think teenage pregnancies are twenty five times higher than official estimates. The public think 31% of the population are immigrants–the reality is closer to ten percent. Welfare benefit fraud is thought to be 34 times higher than it actually is.

All of the misconceptions covered by IPSOS Mori, the polling company that undertook the research, have been central to political party manifestos and been aggressively pushed by their PR companies.

Or that journalists are too readily being made tools of political parties who want to get elected, who want the issues that they care most about continually in the press, hotly discussed and “on the agenda.” Perhaps we, as journalists, need to remain ever vigilant to the briefing of misinformation and our responsibility to the truth.

This article was published on 3 Jan 2014 at indexoncensorship.org