Did you know that Iran has around one million bloggers, that Farsi is in the top five languages used on the internet or that 20 per cent of Saudi Arabians are now online? Australian journalist and blogger Antony Loewenstein explains that blogging is not the sole domain of pornographers or Hollywood gossips and that a previously voiceless Saudi Arabian female can now, by blogging, explain the realities of her life and culture with readers in Sydney. He argues that bloggers are being referred to increasingly by journalists and the curious alike to find out what is really happening in hot spots around the globe because it is a legitimate form of “stand alone journalism, almost completely self-sufficient and able to reach readers directly without any unnecessary filters”.
Loewenstein travels to Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Cuba and China to meet bloggers who are often risking their lives in order to share their views on their country’s rulers and their opinions on Western democracy, the US in particular. He is at pains to point out that he’s not calling for regime change in the countries he visited, nor an increase in US involvement, but for the right of all citizens to access, distribute and discuss information without persecution. He notes with interest that in homes where men and women go to great lengths to socialise away from the eyes of the authorities, the last thing they wanted to discuss was politics: “It was time to escape the daily need to assume a public role, to be what society, and especially families, expected.”
He meets a variety of journalists, writers, bloggers and partygoers and allows the reader to learn more about life in what we tend to view as repressed or backward countries. As one Iranian journo puts it, “Western media agencies only want to know about nuclear problems and al-Qaeda”. Loewenstein’s intelligence and humanity shine through and have made this reader, at least, keen to investigate blogs that discuss things other than Lindsay Lohan’s new girlfriend.