Friday, March 5, 2010

Internet Freedoms in China - Part 3 of 3

Even more divulging is the claim by Dr. Hung that the Ministry of Information Industry aimed this regulation at free, personal websites, rather than business enterprises. Thus far, thousands of personal websites have been shut down for failure to register. Shortly thereafter in July 2005, newer regulations were passed, requiring instant message users and bloggers to use their real names to log in online. These actions, whose alleged purpose was national security and social stability, were also highly recommended to universities by the Ministry of Education (Hung 14). In this case, Singapore and China utilize equally stringent policies to promote self-censorship in the public. Licensing functions to further intimidate those who may otherwise risk sharing and collecting information, because it requires the disclosure of one's identity. The reason why there exists such a wealth of information (whether good or bad) is likely attributable to the ability of anyone to share personal as well as academic ideas without the need for self-disclosure. Taking away anonymity is taking away new material out of that stagnant pool of information that is especially reinforced in one-party states such as China and Singapore.

The last significant measure taken by Singapore and China to limit internet freedom is nationwide surveillance of users and web spaces. These governments require ISPs to retain information on users that is collected in the course of their online activities, in addition to surveillance on cellular phones and mobile devices (Gomez 143). Chinese authorities exert more effort, by training and employing a reported 40,000 cyber police whose intended purpose as stated by China's People's Daily newspaper is "to intensify real-time monitoring, to intercept and delete harmful information and to capture and check illegal server data" (Hung 40). The roaring Chinese economy has even inspired "censorship entrepreneurs who, provide advanced text mining solutions to enable censors to monitor, forecast and manage online public opinion, thereby avoiding scandalous and damaging revelations" ( These solutions have been used in situations such as that of a popular internet post in 2007 that exposed the kidnapping and forced slave labor of children at illegal brick kilns in Shanxi province. The post was promptly deleted as soon as the authorities were notified. China is able to maintain such penetrating and prompt measures largely due to its large bureaucracy (Yang 416). The bureaucracy also reduces the transparency of operations and makes it difficult for internet users to appeal unfair practices to higher levels of government. Internet surveillance and regulations that require licensing/registration are incredibly intrusive into and obstructive of socio-political and cultural discourse in Singapore and China. In fact, these two policies are further detrimental because they could deter some internet users from internet activity entirely. The fewer internet users there are posting and collecting ideas and information, the less information is circulated, and the self-reinforcing cycle of stagnation emerges once more.

The Chinese media's declining ranking by the RSF in the new millennium indicates that the progression of internet freedom is likely in decline as well. In 2004 the Chinese government deemed websites hosted by the CNN and BBC to be "subversive" websites, and restricted access to them with strict laws, jail sentences and even crackdowns on cybercafés. Case in point, in 2003, a Chinese activist was imprisoned for 8 years for posting content that aligned with the Chinese Democratic Party. In 1999, then Senior Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew gave a speech at the Asian Media Conference stating that Singapore did not intend to block incoming information, rather to state its position on the information. Within a perplexing matter of minutes, he also admitted that “information technology is rapidly undermining whatever monopoly control of the media government might have had" (Hung 22). In addition, he Minister Yew spoke of the promising joint ventures between the Chinese media and U.S-based FOX network. Despite this, the government continues to monitor and regularly block television channels such as CNN and BBC World News. On April 20, 2006, CNN and BBC were repeatedly blocked, apparently to prevent viewers in China from seeing Wang Wenyi, a Falun Gong protester, heckling Chinese President Hu Jintao on the South Lawn of the White House during Hu’s official visit to the U.S (Chung 735). This reveals that while foreign media enterprises may be allowed to join the media networks in China and Singapore, their material is also subject to filtering, and surveillance. Every government retains the right to determine the policies it implements, however these policies seem redundant. What is the purpose of permitting foreign information via the internet if after the filtering, censorship, and surveillance processes, it is only available to a minority who has passed the licensing requirements?

A recurring theme, especially in the new millennium is the citation of "national security" as a reason for any and all measures to limit internet freedoms. These two words have become as common as grammatical articles in the English language, ever since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and as some scholars suspect, are used as an all-purpose cover for authoritarianism. Gomez states that “the repressive practices of media control, from the colonial era to post-colonial and contemporary governments, have been applied to the internet and the information carried by mobile information devices. Thus, to a large extent, the cyber security measures resulting from the ‘war against terrorism‘are simply an extension of existing censorship laws and surveillance strategies (145).Propaganda and other media control has likely not ceased to exist in China and Singapore, but has instead taken on a more digital and more ambiguous form (Kalathil 44).

The most distressing factor about China’s and Singapore’s authoritarian governments’ limitation on internet freedom is that it greatly reduces the democratizing power of the internet. I concur with Gomez when he implores that “democracy requires a public culture of participation”; the internet is presently the most promising tool for fostering democracy across borders but is under intense control. Given the opportunity to defend China and Singapore amongst other nations using similar policies, former Senior Minister of Singapore might say
  “The Internet is as much a purveyor of truth as it is of outright lies. Although it may take some time, morality and wisdom must find a way to control and tame the new technology to preserve the fundamental values of society by which parents bring up their children to be good citizens. In responding to this challenge of new technology, Asian societies will seek solutions different from those of the West” (
Wang, Stephanie. "China | OpenNet Initiative." ONI Home Page | OpenNet Initiative. 15 June 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2009. .
Chung, Jongpil. "Comparing Online Activities in China and South Kore." Asian Survey 8.5 (2008): 727-51. University of California. Web. 20 Oct. 2009. .
Gomez, James. "Dumbing Down Democracy: Trends in Internet Regulation, Surveillance and Control in Asia." Pacific Journalism Review 10.2 (2004): 130-50. Auckland University of Technology. Web. 20 Oct. 2009. .
Hassid, Jonathan. "Controlling the Chinese Media: An Uncertain Business." Asian Survey 48.3 (2008): 414-30. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. .
Kalathil, Shanthi. " for Dictators." Foreign Policy 135 (2003): 42-49. Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. .
"The Media and Asia." Speech. World Affairs Council. Los Angeles. 19 Oct. 1998. Los Angeles World Affairs Council. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. .
"Media Development Authority - About Us." Media Development Authority - Home. Media Development Authority, 29 July 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. .
"Press Freedom Index 2009." Reporters Sans Frontières. Reporters Sans Frontières. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. .
"World Economic Forum - Global Information Technology Report." World Economic Forum - Home. Ed. World Economic Forum. 26 Mar. 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2009. .
Yang, Gubon. "The Coevolution of the Internet and Civil Society in China." Asian Survey 43.3 (2003): 405-22. 2 Dec. 2003. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. .

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails