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Should reader comments on Gaza be censored?

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2009-01-11

Your opinions matter to us. If news sites filter readers’ reactions, is it censorship or are the sites trying to provide a better service?

Several French online media organizations have decided to stop letting their readers comment on articles dealing with the Israeli offensive against Hamas in Gaza. These news sites include, and

A spokesman for Libération said: “Many of the reactions were outbursts of hatred, endless insults. We do not want the comments section to become a forum for racists and anti-Semites."

The BBC erases more than half of the reactions posted to one section of its site

Most major international sites, including CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera (as well as FRANCE 24), however, have decided to continue publishing reader comments — but they do check the contents before the comments go online.

On most subjects, the BBC have usually allowed most user comments to pass freely, but that is not the case where reactions to the Israel-Gaza conflict are concerned.

In the "Have your say" section of the BBC website, a moderator explains: “We’ve got two debates on the blog at the moment (on Gaza and on homosexuality) that are leading us to delete well over half of the comments you’re posting. So, to save your time and ours a little reminder of our blog rules…….

“Robust debate is welcome. Comments that are too long, stray off the topic, are racist or homophobic will not be published. It also comes down to tone. If it sounds like you are being threatening, or launching personal attacks it won’t be published.

"So close the site altogether"

French website has chosen to maintain automatic publication of responses and to filter them after they have been posted.

Site editor Pierre Haski explains: “It is a sign of defeat to close the opportunity to comment while the events are happening. We may as well close the site down.

“It is true that the comments about Gaza are numerous – between 500 and 1,000 per article. I spend at least three hours moderating the site after an article is posted. We find that we have to remove between 25% and 30% of comments, against 2% for other stories.”

Note from FRANCE24's editor-in-chief:

Internet users of are often surprised that not all their comments are published. For example, “Chérif”, a resident of France, complained: “FRANCE 24 is politicised. It’s too bad. My posts do not pass.”

Here’s the explanation we’ve been posting on our Gaza pages: “Because of the high number of user reactions to the Gaza conflict, we are posting only a selection on the site. Please keep your reactions short, relevant and civil. (See our Rules of conduct.)”

We select reactions that contribute to a respectful, constructive debate. Like other news sites, we receive many reactions that contain racist or aggressive language that violate our rules of conduct. We do not publish those.

But we want to know what you think. When news sites filter user reactions, are they providing a service to their users and the broader community, or is it censorship?

Date created : 2009-01-10