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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China Blacks Out Tibet News

March 20, 2008

YouTube was down over the weekend, while Baidu and the Chinese versions
of Yahoo! and MSN are sticking with the party line

by Chi-Chu Tschang
BusinessWeek
March 17, 2008

Since riots broke out in Tibet last week, authorities have imposed
martial law and tried to control the flow of information into and out of
the region. The government has banned journalists and tourists from
entering Tibet. And officials have imposed strict controls over the
Internet in an effort to spin what happened in Tibet and neighboring
provinces to conform with Beijing's version of events.

That's resulted in some typical blackouts. Not surprisingly, Google's
(GOOG) YouTube, (BusinessWeek.com, 12/06/07), which the government often
targets, was down over the weekend in China after someone posted video
clips of Tibetan monks protesting. In-house censors at blog-hosting
companies have excised any comments that are not in line with those from
official state-owned media such as China Central Television (CCTV) or
the Xinhua News Agency. One Internet user who goes by the handle
"Rensheng jiushi fanfu" wrote in a comment under a posting about tourism
in Tibet on the popular online bulletin board Tianya, "CCTV has reported
it. Xinhua News Agency has also reported it. But Tianya cannot."

China's most popular search engines and portals are sticking to the
official line, too. The only mention of Tibet on Baidu.com (BIDU),
China's top search engine, is in a Xinhua story alleging the Dalai Lama
is plotting to destroy social stability in Tibet, an effort that Xinhua
says is doomed to fail. The Chinese versions of Yahoo! (YHOO) and
Microsoft's (MSFT) MSN are running the same Xinhua item. The Chinese
edition of Google News has links to the Chinese Web sites of the British
Broadcasting Corp., Voice of America, and Taiwanese newspapers, but
those sites are blocked within China (BusinessWeek.com, 10/20/07).

A 2005 Wakeup Call for Chinese Censors

The ability of Beijing to control information about the crisis points to
the limitations of the big U.S. Web brands and others when news breaks
that the Chinese government doesn't like. "There are a lot of people
that think the Internet is going to bring information and democracy and
pluralism in China just by existing," says Rebecca Mackinnon, assistant
professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism & Media Studies
Center. "I think what we're seeing with this situation in Tibet is while
the Chinese government's system of Internet censorship controls and
propaganda is not infallible by any means, it works well enough in times
of crisis like this."

In many ways, large-scale anti-Japanese protests in Chinese cities in
2005 served as a wakeup call for the government's censors. Despite a
blackout of the traditional media at the time, Chinese protestors sent
each other e-mails, instant messages, and text messages to organize
protests through the streets of Beijing and Shanghai. As a result, the
government issued a series of regulations shortly afterward forcing
Internet content providers to register with authorities and held them
responsible for their user-generated content. Also, censors made
improvements on the Internet filtering system that blocks thousands of
sensitive key words.

After blogger Richard Burger, an American living in Beijing, posted
about the riots in Tibet on his blog, The Peking Duck on Mar. 16, his
blog was blocked in China. Burger says his blog has been blocked in
China several times since he started it in 2002 after blogging about
sensitive topics. "The huge computer networks that the party uses to
filter and funnel every word that goes through the Internet is going to
catch those words and it's automatically going to shut your blog down
for a period of time," says Burger. "You realize it's nothing personal."
Using U.S. Servers to Avoid Censors

With the censoring of Chinese blog and BBC postings that do not reflect
the government's position, most of the Chinese postings left standing
tend to present an overwhelming resentful attitude towards Tibetans.
"Tibetan mobs are a group of ungrateful people. They enjoy many unique
advantages, such as more than one child, much lower requirements for
university admission, protection policies on the region, and paramount
investments," writes a blogger in English on a site called "Chinese Lives."

However, there are some exceptions. After a number of friends asked
entrepreneur Zhou Shuguang, who lives in Hunan province in south-central
China, about what was going on in Tibet, he collected pictures and news
articles about the riot from not just the official Chinese media but
also Chinese translation of foreign media articles and posted them on
his Web site, zuola.com. Censors have tried to shut down his Web site
numerous times, but Zhou set up his Web site on Internet servers in the
U.S. and also posted it on Google Docs to get around the blocks. "The
more you try to censor something, the more people will want to
understand it, so I posted it on my Web site," he says. "It was easy."

Tschang is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Beijing bureau.
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