China now has more than 160 million Internet users and at least 1.3 million websites. But the Internet’s promise of free expression and information has been nipped in the bud by the Chinese government’s online censorship and surveillance system, according to a joint study by Reporters Without Borders and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Chinese Internet expert working in IT industry.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government have deployed colossal human and financial resources to obstruct online free expression, according to the study. Chinese news web sites and blogs have been brought under the editorial control of the propaganda apparatus at both the national and local levels, it added.
The study comes ahead of the 17th National Congress of the CCP, which opens this week in Beijing. It is also less than a year to the Olympic Games in Beijing, when China will attempt to present the best side of the country.
The Chinese government controls traditional news media like TV, radio, and print, but finds that its control is eroded by the Internet. The Internet has emerged as a new forum for dissident activity in countries like Myanmar and China where information flow is controlled by the authorities. During the recent crushing by the military in Myanmar of an agitation by Buddhist monks and students, blogs and videos posted on the Internet were the main information source on the army brutality for the outside world.
Foreign Internet businesses have been quite willing to go along with the Chinese government, if only to get market access. Their pet line is that they have to play by the rules, and that they actually help by being in China, by providing the Internet tools for people to communicate and collaborate.
In 2005, Yahoo was accused by Reporters Without Borders of supplying information to China which led to the jailing of a journalist for “divulging state secrets”, according to this report in the BBC.
In 2006, Google said it would censor its search services in China in order to gain greater access to China’s fast-growing market, according to this report. Those that don’t cooperate like online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, find themselves sporadically blocked out.
For a PDF version of the study see here