Reporters Without Borders puts jailed journalists' words where censors can't touch them

Billboards around the world get a new look in Google Maps

Published On
Apr 05, 2018

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Authoritarianism is on the rise around the world. Politicians are pushing agendas that demonize migrants and international cooperation and silence dissent. In 2017, 65 journalists were killed and 326 were jailed for speaking out against these abuses of power.

But their words are censored in the very countries that most need to hear them. So an innovative project from Reporters Without Borders Sweden enlists Google Maps to present those messages in a way that governments can't prevent. "Billboards Without Borders," created by Stockholm agency Akestam Holst, digitally alters prominent signage in public spaces around the world, replacing ads with the commentary that led to a journalist's imprisonment or death.

In Moscow's Red Square, an altered sign now reads, "Being gay is normal," a pronouncement that led to a 50,000 ruble fine for Alexander Suturin. In Malta, an excerpt from investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's final blog post decries rampant corruption. She was killed by a car bomb the same day she wrote it. The U.S. isn't off the hook, either. In Times Square, President Donald Trump is called out for blocking reporters on Twitter.