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

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
Fol­low Cit­i­zen Lab on Twit­ter @citizenlab