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.”
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