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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China relaxes grip on internet and media after quake

May 19, 2008

The Australian
May 15, 2008

AMID a national outpouring of grief over Monday's earthquake, China
has relaxed its grip - perhaps only briefly - on the internet and some media.

Chinese witnesses to the devastation in Sichuan province have flooded
websites with homemade videos, filled chat rooms with commentary and
let text messages fly from their mobile phones.

The disaster has provided an opportunity for "citizen journalists" to
disseminate tidbits of information at a furious pace rarely seen before.

China's conventional media, initially lagging behind bloggers and
users of instant messaging services, also have found greater
freedoms, showing often-distressing images of quake-ruined areas
without the sanitising that censors usually demand.

"This is pretty special in terms of letting a lot of reporting
happen," said Andrew Lih, a technology author living in Beijing and
former scholar of new media at Columbia University.

"You just can't hide it. It's a gigantic event. You've got citizens
with cell phones with cameras and video filing stuff," Lih said.

Some of the early videos, such as one of a Sichuan University student
crouching under a desk as items fly and roll around the dorm room,
captured the terror and became hits not only in China but elsewhere as well.

"You can see him telling his roommate, who is under the table, to
stay under the table because it's not safe yet," said Graham Webster,
who writes a technology blog, Sinobyte, as part of the CNET blog network.

China leads the world for mobile phone and internet users. Some 574
million Chinese have mobile phones, and 221 million regularly use the
internet, slightly more than in the US. Also hugely popular are an
array of instant-messaging services accessed either by computer or by
mobile phone.

Wary of citizen efforts to access sensitive information or conspire
against the government, China's one-party state normally employs a
vast array of human and electronic means to keep the digital arena
sterile, including maintaining barriers to foreign websites through
what has been dubbed the Great Firewall of China.

But unlike a series of crises earlier this year - such as weeks of
snowstorms that paralyzed central China in January and February, or
violent unrest among Tibetans in March - the earthquake united the
nation in mourning and action.

"That's primarily why you are not seeing a lot of censorship.
Everybody's out there doing the same story," said Rebecca MacKinnon,
a former CNN correspondent in China who now teaches at the University
of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Center.

The earthquake hit on a workday afternoon, and hundreds of millions
of people in China and even in neighboring countries felt its tremors.

Almost instantly, popular internet portals set up pages for users to
post information from text messages received from friends and
relatives in Sichuan and to upload video related to the disaster.

China's most popular video-sharing website, tudou.com, now has about
1000 clips related to the quake, including appeals to locate relatives.

In one, a forlorn man says: "My parents, relatives and friends are
all in Sichuan. But I'm not able to contact them."

Other popular websites, including QQ.com and YouTube.com (which is
sometimes blocked in China), also have hundreds of uploaded videos
about the quake.
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