Richard Edelman on internet censorship and Canada

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

After working through a scheduling nightmare over the last week, I finally connected with Richard Edelman, CEO of the global public relations firm that bears his name. He was in Toronto last week to talk about the future of PR at the Mesh conference, and he had some interesting views on the state of the internet.

When I reached Edelman as he was "walking around aimlessly in Manhattan", I had just finished watching Amnesty International's webcast of a global discussion of internet repression and censorship. Many of the speakers, including Canada's own Ron Deibert pointed to companies in the West that enjoy the benefits of free expression but were supplying information, software equipment and services to countries with poor human rights records. Many of the speakers accused the companies of being complicit in human rights abuses occurring in those countries.

I asked Edelman about his take on the idea that while people around the world are gaining a voice through blogs, podcasts and other media, governments are using the internet to crack down on rights, with the help of corporations.

Edelman said he was more optimistic about the internet and the power of people to use it to make change, so that the notion didn't ring true to him. To bolster his position, he pointed to remarks by Russian chess champion and politician Gary Kasparov about how the truly free press and source of reliable information in Russia is the internet.

"Gary Kasparov said the other day in Russia that people there are using the power of the internet to help carry the story," Edelman said. "I don't buy the argument that companies are helping countries repress people. Perhaps I'm naive, I'm from Chicago."

Edelman also added that Canada is one country that should be faring better online and he was puzzled about why it didn't have a more prominent presence.

"Canada has a really great opportunity to not be a follower but a leader in this. It's multicultural, technology-forward… it's a wonderful global technology market," he said. "The enthusiasm and intelligence I saw at Mesh is every bit as good as what I've seen in France and anywhere else.

"But you guys lack this ego thing – it's very Canadian, isn't it? In this business, I don't think that helps. I don't know why you don't have one of the top 50 bloggers [in the world]. You should."

There you have it, folks. Start linking to this blog and tell your friends – we'll be in the Top 50 in no time.