Media Releases

New major report tracks challenges of a censored Internet for global broadcasters

October 11, 2011

TORONTO, ON – An international research team, based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, has released a detailed report that tracks and analyzes the difficulties of broadcasting the news into jurisdictions that censor the Internet, including Iran and China.

The report, entitled Casting a Wider Net: Lessons Learned in Delivering BBC Content on the Censored Internet, reports on a series of real-world tests to deliver access to BBC websites into Iran and China, where they are regularly blocked by authorities. The research combines data from three major sources: two years’ worth of traffic data from the BBC’s web content services, in-field testing of Iranian and Chinese Internet censorship undertaken by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), and service delivery of Psiphon Inc, a Canadian “circumvention” service that delivers uncensored connections to the web for citizens living behind national firewalls.

Casting a Wider Net sheds a bright spotlight on what is typically a shadow game: the race among government censors to block content, and those determined to sidestep those efforts. China and Iran are among the world’s most pervasive filters of Internet content, and present a special challenge to global media broadcasters who are often targeted by governments for blocking. BBC’s Mandarin and Farsi services are normally subject to intense blocking efforts by both countries.

From 2009 to 2011, the BBC worked with Psiphon in a series of trials designed to test how readily content could overcome Chinese and Iranian blocking efforts, using a range of delivery methods, including social networking sites like Twitter, traditional radio broadcasts, and special email lists.

Working over several months with access to the results of the BBC’s and Psiphon’s trial data, the University of Toronto’s research team, led by the Canada Centre’s Visiting Fellow in Global Media, Karl Kathuria, experimented with several controlled propagation methods while simultaneously directing tests undertaken by ONI researchers inside China and Iran to verify blocking. The result is an unprecedented and detailed peek into the “cat and mouse game” of Internet censorship evasion: what works, what doesn’t, and why?

The University of Toronto’s Ron Deibert, Director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, explains the motivation for Casting a Wider Net. “As global news moves online, and content becomes subject to increasingly tight restrictions in numerous national jurisdictions, the challenges of delivering content to target audiences are becoming increasingly complex. “To succeed internationally”, Deibert explains in the report’s foreword, “broadcasters will need to develop a comprehensive strategy to navigate this new media terrain carefully.”

“Casting a Wider Net shows that bypassing Internet censorship to deliver news content in restrictive communications environments involves far more than just supplying circumvention tools. Broadcasters need to devise a strategy for distributing content over the Internet with an understanding of the different challenges they will face in each of the target countries they are trying to reach.”

The report’s primary author, Karl Kathuria, adds “This project presented us with a unique opportunity to study online distribution in areas where blocking is prevalent, and to consider what is needed for organizations that want to deliver online news on a global scale. The recommendations from the report will lead broadcasters into this new delivery environment, helping them to formulate distribution strategies and get closer to their waiting audiences.”

The full report can be downloaded freely online at http://uoft.me/casting

About the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies

The Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs is a centre of interdisciplinary research, policy development, and other activities in emerging security issues that are critical to Canada’s future. Established in spring 2010 with a grant from the Government of Canada, the Canada Centre’s areas of interdisciplinary study include cyber security, global health, food security, and region-specific concerns, such as the future of the Arctic, post-Soviet Europe, the new Asian powers, and the changing face of the Americas.

About the Citizen Lab

The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, Canada focusing on advanced research and development at the intersection of digital media, global security, and human rights. The Citizen Lab’s ongoing research network includes the Information Warfare Monitor, the OpenNet Initiative, OpenNet Eurasia, and Opennet.Asia.

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For more information, please contact:

Irene Poetranto
Communications Assistant
Citizen Lab
Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto
(416) 946-8903
irene.poetranto@utoronto.ca
Follow Citizen Lab on Twitter @citizenlab