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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Why the Chinese Olympic Net censorship won't work (unless the Western press wants it to)

August 1, 2008

Chris Matyszczyk
CNet News
July 30, 2008

The more you tell people they can't do something, the more they'll
try to do it.

It's the same with drugs. It's the same with turning your cell phone
off at the movies. And it's the same with censorship.

There are many journalists lifting their laptop lids in horror at
discovering that the Chinese government is now dancing the censorship two-step.

After all, the journalists wail, the Chinese, when they were bidding
for the games, promised open Internet access. They promised it would
be 80 degrees and sunny every day, too.

However the Internet, just like the commenters on this very site, has
a robust constitution.

So perhaps it's worth considering how this supposed censorship will
actually work.

According to those who are already busy carving their protests in
digital stone, any sites with the dreaded word "Tibet" in their URL
will be blocked. Same goes for the subversive propagandists at
Amnesty International.

Yet what is to stop Jonathan Jockstrap, intrepid journalist employed
by the Western Significant Times, from e-mailing his close friend in,
say, some sickeningly uncensored Western country?

Jockstrap asks the friend to access one of the banned sites, copy and
paste any relevant information to his e-mail, and send it right along
with his best wishes.

Jockstrap will then have circumvented the ban and be able to report
on anything he chooses.

Will the Chinese be upset? Well, only after they have read the
malevolent (to them) Jockstrap column.

That's because they will surely not be willing to censor every
personal e-mail (and phone call, for that matter). Could they
possibly have employed enough censors? Would they possibly risk the
ridicule this might bring? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But they surely
cannot entirely stop communication between journalists and their
editors and friends outside of China.

It's so easy to blame the Chinese (although I have to say they did
themselves no favors by having their own neurotic Secret Service
people running alongside the Olympic Torch and barging into
conscientiously acquiescent objectors in San Francisco, for example).

But it will be relatively simple for the Western journalists to see
if their own personal e-mails and other communications are being
tampered with. (Phone call between journalist and editor: "You sent
me a naked picture of your new boyfriend? What naked picture?")

And it will be relatively simple for the Western press to publish
anything that the supposedly banned sites are saying about the games,
the Chinese government, the dubious powers of Chinese medicine, or
the real age of some of the Chinese competitors.

The real question is whether they will want to. The real question is
whether there will be a lot of athletic spiking going on in newsrooms
around the world.

The likelihood is that if we don't read anything that even borders on
the controversial from the world's free press, it might not be the
Chinese who will be the censors.

It might equally be the politically sensitive, revenue-reverential
folks back home.
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