The Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab at University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, have 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?
I explain the motivation for the research in the report’s foreword: “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, 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 full report can be downloaded freely at http://uoft.me/casting.