33 - Censorship

In Britain one is largely unaware of any censorship. In China, one discovers its existence quite quickly on the internet. I came across a reference to some fun cartoons on flickr, representing internet error messages. I sent a reference to a pal in the UK. And then the photos I had seen as thumbnails wouldn’t refresh.

A while later I begin to discover the size of the problem. Flickr is blocked throughout China and has been since May 2007. Access is possible indirectly by setting up remote ISPs out of the country, which implies serious bandwidth to me. For most people living in China,—and bear in mind that already there are more internet users here than anywhere outside the US and catching fast—the result is that yahoo! Is suddenly useless. This is a problem especially for those who were regular users and had put serious amounts of data in remote storage – some of whom were businesses trying to be sensible.

I quote Wikipedia (it should be Wikipaedia) on the subject, link [here] and quote little bits below.

The special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau have their own legal systems, so censorship does not apply there.

The escalation of the government's effort to neutralise critical online opinion comes after a series of large anti-Japanese, anti-pollution and anti-corruption protests, many of which were organised or publicised using instant messaging services, chatrooms and text messages. Although the existence of an internet police task force, estimated at more than 30,000, has been known for some time, attention is mostly focused on their work as censors and monitors. Countless critical comments appearing on Internet forums, bulletin boards, blogs, vlogs or any major portals such as Sohu and Sina are usually erased within minutes.

The banning appears to be mostly uncoordinated and ad-hoc, with some sites being blocked and similar sites being allowed or even blocked in one city and allowed in another.The blocks have been often lifted for special occasions. One example was the New York Times which was unblocked when reporters in a private interview with Jiang Zemin specifically asked about the block and he replied that he would look into the matter. During the APEC summit in Shanghai during 2001, normally-blocked media sources such as CNN, NBC, and the Washington Post suddenly became accessible. Since 2001, the content controls have been further relaxed on a permanent basis, and all three of the sites previously mentioned are now accessible from mainland China. In fact, most foreign news organisations' web sites are accessible, though a small number (including BBC News) continue to be blocked.

I have had little trouble raising the BBC, though. I don’t disagree with the existence of censorship – it’s not my place to argue with that. I am a little concerned at the lack of clarity. Given that here speech is not free, the restrictions below make a lot of sense. An issue one might have is quite what constitutes offensive material. I am sure we would disagree where the line on pornography should be drawn; many Europeans would disagree with the political stance. That is not for us to argue with, I think. Continuing to quote from Wikipedia, the only issue I might have is with press freedom, but that is because I am used to having it. Most of the British press I read before leaving that country was sufficiently biased toward its readership to make me annoyed and glad to be leaving.

Research into mainland Chinese Internet censorship has shown that censored websites include:
* Websites belonging to outlawed qigong group Falun Gong
* News sources that often cover some taboo topics such as police brutality, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, democracy, and Marxist sites.[11] These sites include Voice of America, BBC News, and Yahoo! Hong Kong
    * Sites related with Taiwan government, media, or other organisations, including sites dedicated to religious content, such as CBETA, a site that provides the complete Chinese Buddhist canon
* Web sites that contain obscenity, pornography and criminal activity* Sites linked with the Dalai Lama and his International Tibet Independence Movement, including his teachings

Blocked websites are indexed to a lesser degree, if at all, by some Chinese search engines, such as Baidu and Google China. This sometimes has considerable impact on search results.[12] According to a Harvard study, at least 18,000 websites are blocked from within mainland China.[13] According to The New York Times, Google has set up computer systems inside China that try to access Web sites outside the country. If a site is inaccessible, then it is added to Google China's blacklist.[14] However, once unblocked, the websites will be reindexed.

Some commonly used methods for censoring content are: IP blocking. DNS filtering and redirection, URL filtering, packet filtering and connection reset. None of these is a surprise.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we had some (limited) censorship everywhere: at a national level in the UK, applied by your ISP or your browser supplier. We each do it ourselves at some level with spam filtering (now there’s a group of people one would like dealt with firmly and permanently).

We are not happy when someone else’s opinions are forced upon us. I maintain that how others live their lives is their affair unless and until it affects my life. So bad behaviour in the street (typical loutish behaviour) tends to provoke reaction from such as myself. Unwanted mail tends to produce support for spam prevention methods (paper and electronic); people sending mail that intend to defraud causes support of killing off their domain name. I find myself fairly sure about these, but I am less sure where the boundary lies.

So what is the issue for you? Is it an instant reaction that says all censorship is wrong? A sort of “It’s my life, how dare you interfere” ? Is your reaction confined to freedom of the Press – in which case I challenge you to look at bias in reporting: I suggest to you that less bias is obvious in international reporting (e.g. US comment on events in Britain) but if you compare, say, the Times, Guardian and Independent reports on the same news story, you will see the small but significant differences that probably keep the particular readership happy.

I was impressed with what I thought I saw of press coverage in India (2005). Note the careful use of words: I thought I read articles criticising the progress of government projects; the response from the officials interviewed were uniformly informative, explanatory and read as free from spin. This I found refreshing, as I did the curious differences in the use of English. When it came to sport, the articles read quite differently and I was left wondering if I was merely missing the clues for spin. Now, that’s cynical.

If we in the West claim a free press, we could be clearer in what we properties we attribute to that Press. Papers must sell, and that creates instant consequence. All our media suffer the same economic drive: we may claim differently for public service broadcasting and that may even be true to an extent. Which brings us to a different question: what is it ‘we’ want from our Press? Do we want to feel good? That would explain the horrid coverage of other people’s suffering. Do we want to feel close to those of importance? Hence the personality cult. Add some to this list, please, and share it.

Are blogs different? I am not convinced. Already there are commentators blogging are receiving sufficiently wide readership that bigger media are using them as commentators. So what began as entirely personal free speech has become a paid activity. And that payment may just stop the speech being free.

DJS 20081108  
(but I think that date unlikely to be true; I think it exhibits a sort of wishful spin)

Comment, please. I don’t think this is a complete exploration of the topic. I didn’t achieve completeness with Assemblies, and I was only trying to stimulate thought, not direct it. To change opinion sometimes, but not to make my opinion common.  Examples from common experience would enliven this.

It is often by being radically different in an opinion that the opinions of others crystallise. By taking a stance, one may cause others to become clear in their own. This, for me, is the source of stimulating argument and not a little humour. When you take an idea towards a logical conclusion, maybe by exaggerating one of the strands, it often produces hilarious consequences. Suppose censorship applies to whatever you say it does: that means that maybe anyone can cause the stoppage of any publication (in its widest sense). Rapidly you would have feud (“I don’t like what you stopped of mine so I’ll stop this of yours”) and escalation. In the end everything would be blocked, and we all lose. Suppose there is no censorship: how do you decide what is true? We have, just taking Wikipedia as an example, a sort of self-correcting mechanism where anyone may criticise an entry but the mass belief will out and the expert knowledge will rise to the surface. That is wonderful and I would wish we could apply it successfully in other fields.


© David Scoins 2017