Chinese Censorship of Google Issue Betrays Concerns

Chinese Censorship of Google Issue Betrays Concerns

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

••• Chinese authorities have been explicit and unwavering in their disapproval of Google’s threat to disobey their censorship regulations on its Chinese search site, Google.cn. The company will have to “bear the consequences” for making such an “irresponsible” move, the Minister of Industry and Information Technology said last week.

Behind the scenes, however, there are signs that officials realize that their view on Google may not be superpopular. The Communist Party’s Propaganda Department issued requests to media outlets on Friday to halt their coverage of the possible closure of Google’s Chinese Web site, says a Chinese journalist familiar with the situation. Chinese news Web sites have also been told they will be required to use only official accounts of the situation if Google.cn is closed, another individual with knowledge of that order said.

It’s not uncommon for propaganda authorities in China to give orders dictating the nature of news coverage on sensitive issues where they fear dissent. The fact that authorities have decided that Google’s situation should get that treatment suggests they know that many Chinese Internet users, tens of millions of whom are Google users, don’t see things the same way the government does.

On Monday, coverage of Google in the Chinese media was scarce, apparently reflecting the government gag-order. One of the few items that ran was a commentary by the state-run Xinhua news agency that sharply criticized Google’s actions. It accused the company of “sensationalizing” Chinese Internet censorship and of violating “basic international practices” of following local laws. “We welcome Google to stay if it wants, but it has to abide by Chinese law. There is no space to bargain on this issue,” the commentary said. “One thing is certain: the earth will not stop spinning because Google leaves. Chinese Internet users will continue to go online.”

Indeed, there are Chinese users who feel Google has been too uncompromising, and some actually approve of the sorts of limits the government sets on Internet expression, which they see as a way to cleanse it of pornography and violence. Even Google users, who tend to be young, urban professionals, are unlikely to take to the streets en masse if Google.cn is shut.

But Internet censorship is a hot-button issue for an increasing number of Internet users in China, and interviews and online polls suggest that most Google users in China – even those who support Google’s decision on principle – do not wish to see the company leave. The company is widely perceived in China for having more innovative products, having better English-language search results, and for being less zealous in filtering its results than Chinese competitors. When it first announced on Jan. 12 that it might leave, supporters brought flowers to its offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.



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