The case considered below involves two principles; the right to know and the need to protect the public from accessing material considered harmful or offensive. This case involves the government of the People’s Republic China (PRC) internet censorship and the people’s right to be informed or share information through the internet.
The ethical issue under consideration revolves around whether the government of PRC should censure the internet despite the existence of media freedom which guarantees the right to access, share and broadcast information. Should censorship be based on the fact that the government is out to protect the public from accessing offensive or unwanted materials?
The claimants in this scenario consist of the government of the PRC, those protesting against the censorship and the general public who might not be aware of such attempts by the government.
The government stands to benefit from internet censorship since protests propagated through the internet will be curbed. The general public is a factor since internet censorship by the government may limit their access to information. The protesting groups are also a factor since any censorship laws will see them arrested and imprisoned for violating censorship laws.
Each of these parties would like to have the issue handled differently. The government would like to have internet censorship in place so as to curb protests propagated through the internet. The government is however stuck between the people’s right to be informed and the need to protect the public from unwanted or offensive material.
The protesting groups mainly journalist and internet users would like to see a censorship free internet where they will be able to inform the public and also put the government in check. The protesting groups on their part are stuck between fighting for a censorship free internet and the risk of being arrested and jailed. The general public although they might not be aware would like to have access to information.
This scenario presents at least three possible modes of action. The government may disregard the people’s protests and continue implementing the internet censorship laws. This can be justified by the fact that the government wants to regulate access to unwanted or offensive material. Second, the protestors may defy the censorship laws and continue pushing for a censorship free internet.
Justification for this could be that the freedom of speech and expression is a fundamentally universal human right that no citizen should be denied. Lastly, the government may decide to dialogue with the protesting groups over penitent issues under contention. This can be justified by the fact that both parties are not willing to cede their grounds over what they believe is right.
The last mode of action where the government dialogues with the protesting groups appears to be the most appropriate and effective thing to do. If the government of PRC continue implementing internet censorship laws, then the peoples’ right to be informed and share information freely might be infringed.
The decision which requires the government of PRC and the protesting groups to dialogue over contentious issues can be evaluated using John Stuart’s Utilitarianism theory. This theory considers whether the decision or judgment made provides for the greatest good for greatest number of people (Quinn).
Under this theory, the decision yields the greatest good for the greatest number of claimants. The step is good for the protesting groups and the general public since besides guaranteeing free access to information, also ensures that the government is put in check thus greater transparency and accountability in governance.
The decision will also be good for the government of the PRC since it will ensure that media freedom is upheld besides protecting the public from unwanted or offensive materials. Therefore, under this Utilitarianism theory, the decision requiring the government to consult with protesting groups is ethical.
Quinn, Michael J. Ethics for the Information Age 4th Edition. Boston: Pearson/Addison-Wesley, 2006.