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For journalists and Internet, 2013 must not repeat 2012

Record assaults on journalists in 2012 and official moves to censor the Internet show how much authoritarian regimes fear the truth. Perhaps in 2013, truth-tellers will start to win.

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A man uses a computer at an Internet cafe in Beijing Dec. 28. China's new communist leaders are tightening controls on Internet use following a spate of embarrassing online reports about official abuses.

AP Photo

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The world in 2012 saw exceptional attacks on truth tellers. The number of journalists in prison reached a record high. An unprecedented 132 reporters were killed, either for exposing misconduct or in the line of duty.

Most of all, 2012 saw a new treaty – supported by 89 nations – that sanctions official curbs on the Internet by 2015.

Oppressive regimes from China to Syria have seen how digital media can easily expose the lies, atrocities, and corruption that help maintain their authoritarian rule. At a December conference of the United Nations-affliated International Telecommunications Union, these governments won approval to stifle the Internet – even to create multiple Internets, one for each country with various types of digital walls at the border.

These kind of attacks on truth messengers, however, may simply be one of those darkest-before-the-dawn moments. Advances in digital technology generally have been able to overpower government controls. More to the point, these regimes are up against a rising hunger among their citizens for information, fairness, and openness. Officials themselves need the Internet to even track dissent.

Leaders who deny freedom can sometimes be felled mainly by exposure of their errors. Citizen journalists in Syria are weakening domestic and international support for the Assad regime with YouTube clips of massacres of pro-democracy activists. Western journalists in China have recently exposed corruption among top Communist Party officials (with those Western news sites then blocked).

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