Censored by corporations? Use the net!

A few weeks ago, union-backed campaigners managed to get a billboard erected not far from the corporate headquarters of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest employer. The ad called upon Wal-Mart management to recognize workers’ rights — and was promptly taken down once company officials spotted it. Unions raged that it was a violation of their constitutional right to free speech, but you sort of expect this kind of thing to happen in Bentonville, Arkansas.

You do not, however, expect it to happen in Britain. Not in 2006, and not under a Labour Government.
Yet this is precisely what happened in early July when Amicus and the T&G were compelled to withdraw radio adverts calling for a boycott of Peugeot, following the closure of the company’s Ryton plant in Coventry.
That’s awful, you may think, but what does this have to do with the Internet? Plenty. The new communications media constitute a grey area legally, a space where many of the old rules do not apply. Even totalitarian governments, like those in China and Cuba, have a hard time censoring the net.
Campaigns waged online do not need the permission of unelected bodies like the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) which administers the so-called “Radio Advertising Standards Code”. This Code was contracted out from government communciations watchdog Ofcom to this industry body, presumably to make the censorship of radio advertising more efficient and cost-effective. As the RACC says on its website, “for the first time in its history, radio advertising is no longer statutorily-regulated but self-regulated.”
Such regulation is impossible to imagine on the Internet. And — happy coincidence — the Internet is increasingly where people go, especially young people, to get their news and to do their shopping. According to the BBC, unions are investing £1,000,000 in the campaign against Peugeot — I wonder how much of it is being spent on online advertising and on the creation of dedicated, campaigning websites which have been so effect in the USA in the fight against Wal-Mart.
My guess is: not nearly enough.