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Last Updated: Friday, 17 June 2005, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Blogs lauded in 'freedom awards'
Image of one of the blog winners
A big problem is blog tools which work in different languages
The best weblogs on the net which have defended freedom of expression have been recognised in the Freedom Blogs awards, voted for by the public.

The seven best blogs out of 60, shortlisted by Reporters Without Borders, represent six locations.

Winners included Shared Pains, an Afghan blog which comments on daily political and social life there.

Blogs, diary-like websites where people publish thoughts or news, are popular because they are easy to use and free.

Also highlighted in the winners' list is Mojtaba Saminejad. He is an Iranian whose blog, published in the Farsi language, earned him a two-year prison sentence in June 2005.

The other Iranian bloggers nominated in the separate Iran category all voted for him too, as a sign of solidarity.

In oppressive regimes, they are the only source of information so deserve be highlighted
Julien Pain, Reporters Without Borders
The Asia category was won by the Malaysian blog, Screenshots, published in English.

Its editor, Jeff Ooi, was threatened with imprisonment in October 2004 for allowing a comment on his blog which "insulted Islam", according to the authorities.

English bias

It is the first time the awards have run, but Julien Pain from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) told the BBC News website that the campaign group wanted them to be an annual event. RSF tracks press freedom across the globe.

While there is a huge debate in the US and Europe about whether bloggers should be afforded "journalist" status, with the protections and respect that go with that, the problems facing bloggers in oppressive regimes are much more pressing.

Asia: Screenshots (Malaysia, published in English)
Joint winner Africa and Middle East: Shared Pains (Afghanistan, Farsi)
Joint winner Africa and Middle East: Al Jinane (Morocco, French)
Europe: ICT lex (Italy, Italian)
Americas: Press Think (US, English)
Iran: Mojtaba Saminejad (Iran, Farsi)
International: Netzpolitik (Germany, German)
"Blogs are great a tool in repressive regimes. In countries like China and Nepal, setting up a blog is the only way to be a real journalist," said Mr Pain.

"We wanted to attract attention to how important blogs have become in terms of freedom of expression," he added.

"In oppressive regimes, they are the only source of information so deserve be highlighted."

In 2000 in Iran, for instance, the regime shut down almost all independent newspapers. "Real journalists could not publish anymore so had to find other ways to keep working. They turned to blogs and started their own.

"Then others, like people with other jobs, realised that they could do it too. They had information that the journalists didn't.

"One blogger in Iraq went to jail because he criticised his local government about a very local problem, for instance."

Groups, such as the Committee to Protect Bloggers, have been set up to rally global blogger support for those who are repressed for what they say.

English bias

There is no doubt blogs have caused ripples across the net. Many people are confused about why blogs have exploded in the way they have.

"Blogs make things so much easier for non-technical people to publish. Anyone can be a publisher now," explained Mr Pain.

Image of computer users in Iran
Iranians use blogs as the only source of free information
"The real difference is that it is really easy for everyday people to do it. That is a revolution. Everyone can take the opportunity to be online publishers and speak out.

"We are talking about 50-year-old Iranian journalists with no HTML skills, who would not be able to do real website.

The real problem, he said, was that the main blog tools that make self-publishing easy tended to be Anglo-Saxon and English-language based.

Blogging took off in Iran when Hossein Derakhshan, who blogs under the name Hoder, integrated Farsi into blogging tools.

"Iranians want to talk first to Iranians, then the rest of the world," said Mr Pain.

But Mr Derakhshan does not live in Iran anymore, and now publishes in English. RSF said it was important for people still in countries like Iran to blog and reach out to and inform people who speak their own language.

RSF is trying to help bloggers set up their sites in Nepalese, for instance. They are having enormous difficulties because the blogging tools are just not able to handle the kinds of characters used in Nepalese.

Mr Pain said RSF that working with organisations like Civiblog, which describes itself as a blogging tool for the "global civil society", could help alleviate the problem.

China is the most sophisticated in terms of web censoring tools and systems in place. Last week, the Chinese authorities said that all blogs had to register with them or face being shut down.

And in a widely criticised move, Microsoft's MSN China site said it was starting to censor blog entries with certain terms in them. Microsoft said the company abided by the laws, regulations and norms of each country in which it operates.

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