Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Internet content crackdown continues

Google continues to get a pounding in China as do many other content providers as China renews its attacks.

If the sole aim is to remove porn then there can be few complaints (except from the billion or so that would undoubtedly access said material).

ChinaEconomicsblog will remain "vulgar" free although I believe we might still be blocked by the great firewall of China.

China cracks down on internet content [FT]

China’s government has accused the country’s leading internet search engines and web portals, including Google, of threatening public morals by carrying pornographic and vulgar content.

While Beijing regularly launches web censorship campaigns, the new crackdown is the first in which the government has targeted heavyweight companies such as Google and Baidu, the local rival that leads the Chinese search market. During the last campaign about a year ago, the authorities listed only small and little-known websites as responsible for spreading unhealthy content.

The 19 internet sites cited by the government on Monday included Sina, Sohu, Tencent and NetEase, among the country’s biggest web portals and each run by overseas listed companies, and blog hosting websites and discussion forums such as Tianya.

The move comes as the political leadership faces a raft of challenges, many of them organised through the internet.

Government censors are currently busy blocking reporting and debate about Charter 08, an appeal for democratic reform which has attracted signatures from hundreds of prominent intellectuals. Other forms of dissent, such as the voicing of demands for compensation in China’s poisoned milk scandal, have also been organised through the internet.

The government on Monday directed its criticism strictly at content that could be damaging to children or young people.

Search results on the pages of Google and Baidu had “large amounts of pornographic links [and] after notification from the complaint centre, the site did not take effective countermeasures”, the State Council Information Office said in a joint statement with other agencies distributed through official media.

People familiar with the internet industry in China said the move would serve as a powerful reminder of the self-censorship the authorities expect from internet portals.

Cai Mingzhao, a senior official at the SCIO, said that some websites had exploited legal loopholes and warned of stern punishment.

Late last year, state media attacked Baidu and later also other search engines for carrying links to unlicensed pharmaceutical websites. “Looking back, that was the first signal of a tougher tone in dealing with internet companies,” said one internet executive.

Nevertheless, the websites pilloried by the government censors were caught by surprise on Monday. A manager at Sohu said, ”We find this extremely strange and are still figuring out what exactly happened.”

Chen Tong, editor-in-chief at Sina, China’s leading news portal, said there was no point in being surprised about the crackdown. “Ensuring that your content is OK is a content provider’s responsibility in the first place,” he said.

Neither Baidu nor Google responded to requests for comment.

On Chinese blogging sites, pictures of scantily clad girls can often be seen along one side of the screen or in pop up windows. These were still appearing on Sina and other blog hosting pages on Monday.

China has the world’s largest number of internet users, some 390m according to the government’s last count.


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