China steps up censorship

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

The Olympics are over. The World Fair has closed. Therefore, no more reasons to allow for relaxing the rules on speech and press in China.

In recent weeks the Chinese government has taken off the velvet glove to reveal the iron fist of censorship.

  • First all mention of Egypt and Mubarak were blocked from microblogs and other web sites.
  • Then the term “Jasmine” caught the censors’ eyes.
  • Directives were sent out about what was and wasn’t allowed in the Chinese media.
  • And now the hordes of Chinese censors are hard at work making sure no one talks about protests or other things that could destabilize Chinese society.

The New York Times reported yesterday that censors are apparently listening in on more mobile phone conversations. (China Tightens Censorship of Electronic Communications). The censors use their authority to cut off the connections when “improper” terms are spoken or typed.

The results are predictable:

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

Then there is the episode feminist, sociologist and sexologist Li Yinhe had with the nanny state.

Yesterday, I found myself suddenly unable to send emails, but had no problem receiving emails. After looking through my email settings multiple times, I could find absolutely nothing wrong and as a last resort, I decided to call up the 263.com customer service. On the other end of the call was a polite male voice, who requested that I give him the error number, which I did. The troubleshooting took no time. He asked, “Can you see if your email has the following three English letters — ‘s’, ‘e’ and ‘x’?” I was flabbergasted beyond words. This was a business email discussing the publishing of the works of renowned German sexologist Erwin J. Haeberle in China — of course there was the word “sex” in it. Be that as it may, we finally spotted the reason, and I was able to send the email as soon as the word “sex” was deleted from the email.

And let us not forget that the battle between Google and the Chinese government is still going on. The most recent example came this week in an attack against Gmail users. (Google Says China Is Hindering Gmail)

Google says that Gmail users in China have been reporting difficulties using Gmail and that it has checked its systems and found no problems. “There is no technical issue on our side; we have checked extensively,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”

And so the battle continues.

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