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August 29, 2006

The New York Times Censors Self to U.K. Readers

Is this the harbinger of things to come?  The New York Times is using technology to target ads to individuals to target stories as well.  Well, not exactly targeting stories, but keeping them away from certain groups, such as the British.  Great Britain has laws that prohibit publication of information prior to trial that could prejudice defendants.  Contrast this with the United States where media outlets publish as much as possible about a defendant regardless of the veracity of the information provided they stay within the bounds of libel law.  The best illustration of this comes in the case of John Mark Karr, the self-confessed killer of JonBenet Ramsey, who couldn't pass the DNA tests or other factual inconsistencies in the case to make the charges stick. 

Back to the British and their notions of protecting the rights of the accused, as they apply them to the various accused in the plot to blow up jets en route to the U.S.  The New York Times has a global reach which allows details of the story to penetrate to British readers, unless suppressed locally.  This is exactly what the Times did by using the same technology that allows ads to appear before selected groups.  In this situation, however, the concept was reversed.  The Times blocked the news.

One of the common threads that permeated the hearings Congress held about Chinese censorship and the cooperation of American search engine providers was that these companies were complying with local law.  Is this situation any different?  Aside, that is, that Britain is a shining beacon of jurisprudence and a current ally, and not a competitive superpower that does not necessarily share America's interests at heart?  What is really more thought provoking is that the means to censor geographically is not that hard, and that businesses and news outlets will do so in order to comply with "local laws".  It is one thing to be blocked at the receiving end, and another to block information at the initial source, at the source's own choice.  This development is worth watching to see how businesses and news outlets apply self-censorship to less savory regimes.  There are plenty of them out there.

The New York Times story about the New York Times is in CNET.

August 29, 2006 | Permalink

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