Freedom burns bright in Prague

Thursday, January 24, 2013 | 7:18 AM

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Only two decades ago, the Czech Republic shook off the shackles of authoritarianism and planted the seeds of a vibrant democracy. The Velvet Revolution’s leader Vaclav Havel spoke of the “power of the powerless,” explaining how, in a society ruled by lies, truth gains a "singular, explosive, incalculable political power." Although Havel recently passed away, his powerful memory lives on, strong and steady, as made clear at a recent Google-and Open Society Fund sponsored event in Prague. A group of top ranking Czech editors met in the cozy Bar and Books to discuss the topic, “The End of Free Media.”



For the past two years, we have partnered with the Open Society Fund on a Journalism Award honoring innovative civic journalism. Our Google Digital Innovation Award celebrates the best online entry. Authors, editors, readers, viewers and listeners are encouraged to nominate interesting articles by February 2013. More info can be found here.

Our goal at Bar and Books was to share ideas about the current state of media freedom, potential threats, and steps to protect from government censorship and control. I represented Google on the panel and came away confident that the Czech Republic is a strong ally in the fight for Internet freedom. The Czech government is a founder member with the Netherlands’, Sweden, Estonia, the United States and others of the Freedom Online alliance. This December, Prague joined other European allies, in rejecting an International Telecommunications Union treaty that could open the door to authoritarian control of the Net.

The Czech capital is also home to a dedicated and broad network of freedom-loving NGOs. It was inspiring to hear from former Czech parliamentarian Oldrich Kuzilek how he has set up an association called Otevrete to encourage the government to allow access to taxpayer-funded data. Other organizations such as Transitions monitors regional trends in press freedom, while the Pasos think tank regroups 56 organizations around the region, united to promote democracy and human rights. Apologies to the NGOs omitted here for reasons of space.

We look forward to cooperating with both the Czech government and Czech civil society in order to promote Internet freedom.

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