Monday, January 7, 2008

The Great Electronic Wall of China: When Will They Ever Learn?

By Joe Sims

When will they learn? Greater restrictions on Internet content are being attempted by the Chinese government. According to an article published in South Africa’s Sunday Times, China’s Ministry of Information Industry and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has adopted a series of editorial measures due to go into effect on January 31st.

The Sunday Times article reported China’s government insists that “All content must be free of violence, sex, or gambling, and cannot reveal state secrets or portray morally, socially or politically harmful situations, according to the notice.” Quoting the notice the article continued:

“These regulations have been formulated to safeguard the interests of the nation and the public and to safeguard... the healthy and orderly development of audio-visual services,” it said.

It seems what are deemed socialist values are at stake in the opinion of China leadership:

“Those who provide Internet audio and video services should insist on serving the people, serve socialism... and abide by the moral code of socialism.”

These new rules which require those providing audio and video content to apply for a license every three years, are but the latest in China’s attempt to come to grip with the today’s revolution in communications on the Internet. Previous efforts include agreement with Google and Yahoo to restrict access to certain websites. China’s efforts however, represent old methods to new problems, methods that the very nature of the technology suggest are doomed to failure.

Setting aside for the moment issue of democracy and openness, observers have noted that the Internet by its very definition is impossible to regulate and control. News articles and experts have observed that even websites on Google China’s banned list can be easily accessed by typing similar syntaxes into search engines. Recent visitors to China indicate that even at public internet cafĂ©’s in China US government websites are easily accessible suggesting regulations may be more bluff than bureaucratic blunder.

So why the new rules? Difficult to say, however one thing is certain: the battle of ideas cannot be won by banishing “forbidden” concepts. First of all it’s not possible as suggested above. But not only that: censorship simply drives such concepts and trends underground where it becomes impossible to engage them. Better to confront openly in public debate. If socialism’s ideas are superior, why fear an open debate?

ps: for those who might think these attempts are only China’s think again. A newspaper report several months ago told the story of Homeland Security agents visiting local libraries in the Washington DC area in an attempt to prevent people from surfing porn websites.


A.L Thompson said...

Great article. Socialism in China has a long way to go. Free public debate is an important though often neglected component of a socialist society by many Communist Parties around the world. In reality it is the lack of a constructive dialogue which leads to the lifeless and bureaucratic socialist state governments we have seen in the past.

Greg said...

Good editorial, Joe. The Internet is an important tool for free expression, which should not be impeded. Socialism is very defensible, and we should have confidence that it can and will be defended. But it's not defended, it's sabotaged, by driving dissent underground. I thought A.L. Thompson's comments were on the mark, too. Past socialist societies keeping th elid on dissent just meant that the steam built up and that lid was blown off. With no lid, the steam would float freely, and the whole pot would not be placed in danger.