What we take for granted -- Freedom of the Press

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What we take for granted -- Freedom of the Press

[This article appeared in "The Walkley," a publication of the Australian Journalists' Association.]

Google executives have given in to pressure and resigned themselves to the fact that if they are going to compete in the Chinese market, they too will have to perfect the art of censorship.

Google will phase in its new interface google.cn in coming months, abiding by the stringent content regulations imposed by China?s government. It will join Microsoft and Yahoo! in helping the government build its great firewall.

Chinese media already operate in one of the world?s most restricted information environments. During 2005, Chinese authorities banned 79 newspapers, and two journalists were imprisoned for up to 10 years for ?publishing an unauthorised magazine that exposed local land disputes.?

Of 64 cyberspace dissidents currently in prisons around the world, 54 are in China. Authorities there have an estimated 30,000 online police monitoring news sites, blogs and chat rooms.

Recently, Microsoft was a willing accomplice in shutting down Chinese journalist Zhao Jing?s blog, ?An Ti.? Zhao had used his blog to discuss a strike by editorial staff of the Beijing News, who were protesting the dismissal of three senior editors and their replacement by Party-friendly personnel from the News?s politically conservative parent organisation.

Microsoft defended itself, saying it was obliged to operate within the laws of the country it was servicing. Microsoft?s Chinese web log services bar the use of the terms ?democracy? and ?human rights.?

Another Global corporation, Yahoo!, provided personal information on one of its clients, helping the Chinese government convict a Chinese reporter for revealing state secrets.

As Google makes itself another tool to the Chinese government?s belligerent control of information, it acknowledges the move contradicts its corporate ethics but says it has little choice.

Until now, the Google search service had been offered from outside China, which has resulted in slower services and other access issues. This in turn has generated strong competition from the leading Mandarin search engine, Baidu.