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WSJ: Chinese blogger conference cancelled due to pressure from authorities

An annual blogging conference in Shanghai was cancelled over the weekend due to pressure from the authorities, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The Chinese Blogger Conference reportedly normally attracts online commentators, digital artists and entrepreneurs, many of whom are said to be critical of government censorship. The decision to cancel is “the latest sign of tightening limits in China on free expression” WSJ reports.

This year, organizers waited until four days ahead of the two-day conference’s planned start on Saturday to announce the venue, an office building in Shanghai’s Xuhui District, near Shanghai Jiaotong University. But the planned hosts reneged late last week owing to pressure from authorities not to let their venue be used for the conference, according to one of the organizers.

Read WSJ’s full report here.

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The Economist on where it is banned or censored

The Economist has released information on countries that have banned or censored its issues:

Since January 2009 the Economist has been banned or censored in 12 of the 190-odd countries in which it is sold, with news-stand (as opposed to subscription) copies particularly at risk. India, the only democracy on our list, has censored 31 issues and at first glance might look like the worst culprit. However its censorship consists of stamping “Illegal” on maps of Kashmir because it disputes the borders shown. China is more proscriptive. Distributors destroy copies or remove articles that contain contentious political content, and maps of Taiwan are usually blacked out.

Full chart on the Economist at this link…

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RSF: Two journalists charged in Bahrain; information ministry steps up internet filtering

“Reporters Without Borders is concerned about freedom of expression in Bahrain. In the past couple of months, two journalists have been charged because of what they wrote and the information ministry has stepped up Internet filtering,” the organisation reports.

“Around 600 websites are currently blocked in Bahrain and online censorship has become more extensive since 21 April, when the authorities ordered that access to the Washington-based news website Aafaq.org, Ghada Jamsheer’s women’s rights blog Bahrain-eve and the blog aggregator Bahrainblogs.org should also be blocked.”

Full story at this link…

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BBC Internet Blog: Guide to defamation online

March 6th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Part one in the BBC Internet Blog’s guide to moderation, the law and ‘censorship’ online. Part two will look at contempt of court.

Full post at this link…

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Stuff.co.nz: Aussie censorship plan hindered by internet provider opposition

December 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

Stuff.co.nz reports that the Australian government’s plan to censor the internet is ‘in tatters': Australia’s largest internet provider is saying it will not participate in live trials of the system.

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NYTimes.com: Internet sites blocked for reporters in Beijing

China is failing to uphold its promises to open up internet access for the media during the Beijing Olympics with sites relating to human rights issues and Tibet blocked.

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WAN 2008: Publish everything you have in Chinese for press freedom, urges persecuted journalist

June 3rd, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Events

“Put all of the material you have onto the web in Chinese” – this was the plea of former Golden Pen of Freedom winner Gao Yu, as relayed by World Editors Forum president George Brock to delegates.

According to Brock, freelance Chinese journalist Yu, who won the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) accolade in 1995, said this was the single most useful thing the international media could do to improve freedom of speech and the press in China.

This year’s Golden Pen was awarded to another Chinese journalist: deputy news editor of the Fuzhou Daily Li Chongqing – the second in two years following 2007 winner Shi Tao.

Chongqing was denied a passport to attend the ceremony, while Tao remains in prison serving a ten year sentence on charges of ‘leaking state secrets’.

According to WAN, China remains the biggest jailer of journalists with 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents currently imprisoned.

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RSF: Iran blocks 20 websites

May 27th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

The Iranian government has blocked a host of feminist websites and sites run by independent journalists in a crackdown on online censorship.

RSF says the move is part of preparation for the country’s presidential election next year.

ISPs have been urged to censor content, while site editors will face court proceedings.

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Online Journalism China: shortcomings in the earthquake relief effort going unnoticed in the scramble to present a front of national unity

May 16th, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers

As the catastrophe and media blackout in Burma continues, coverage of the Wenchuan quake in China has taken centre stage.

While pictures and information on Burma are scarce, the international media has been given a free hand on the ground in Sichuan province, perhaps as natural disasters offer an unrivalled opportunity for the government to show itself in action.

Western media has produced some moving accounts of the tragedy as well as some more critical pieces on how the government has handled the rescue effort.

In the Guardian, Naomi Klein reports disgruntled parents lamenting the collapse of their children’s schools, and Tania Branigan quotes claims of corruption and misuse of funds.

Unsurprisingly, coverage here has primarily been on the rescue effort, the suffering and on Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao’s visits to quake-hit areas.

Domestic media has focused on the Party’s action plan and prominently featured press briefings detailing the government’s response, as well as making full use of photo opportunities for Party leaders.

Wen seems to have become the human face of the Party’s disaster relief efforts. He is visible in the same way that he was during the winter snow disaster; where he personally visited the gridlocked Guangzhou train station to address stranded spring festival travellers.

Thursday’s China Daily featured a picture of him holding two forlorn looking girls by the shoulder and quoted him as saying: “I am grandpa Wen Jiabao. You must hold on, child! You will be saved.”

China Daily has focused on the human cost and survivors’ tales, running capped-up front-page headlines “MAGICAL MOMENTS,” and RESCURERS RACE AGAINST TIME”.

Like the snow disaster, a lot of prominence is being given to donors’ generosity and volunteer rescue efforts (including those of foreigners on the ground) as China again attempts to present a united front.

However, the New York Times carries an excellent article asking why the government has accepted aid from Japan, Taiwan and Singapore but rejected offers from others.

Despite the huge mobilization of the army, the troops lack the necessary heavy lifting and drilling equipment to dig for survivors.

Such shortcomings seem to be going unnoticed amongst the scramble to present a front of national unity, and few here are asking why professionals from the West are being told to stay away.

According to China Media Project (CMP), critical coverage of the quake has apparently been banned by an edict discouraged by one of  numerous directives intended to stop the spread of malicious rumours stories that may show the authorities in a bad light.

However stories like this, on the poor structural integrity of the schools that have collapsed, seem to have passed unnoticed.

CMP also runs a translation of another editorial by Southern Metropolis Daily editor Chang Ping. Chang highlights the dubious nature of the law on spreading false rumours in the light of the public’s overwhelming demand for information regarding the quake.

The law has came to the fore after a number of false rumours also surfaced in chatrooms and forums alleging that the authorities had somehow been warned that the quake was coming but suppressed the information, it would have perhaps been easier to dispel some of these myths quickly if the ever present spector of the authroities didn’t loom large and automatically make people suspicious of any news that suggests underhand activity on their part.

It will be interesting to see if the commercial media will begin receiving pressure to avoid critical reporting in the coming days when fewer survivors turn up and locals face the grim task of moving the dead and contemplating rebuilding their towns and homes and lives.

That will be a time for much reflection – and a lot of reflection may lead to some touchy questions.

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Online Journalism China: There’s an expanding array of tools to supply uncensored news – but how many are prepared to listen?

April 15th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Citizen journalism, Online Journalism

To add to our burgeoning hoard of international bloggers, Journalism.co.uk has recruited China Daily’s Dave Green to write about online journalism in China.

I recently fell into conversation with a Beijing taxi driver regarding his opinion on the situation in Tibet. His view was that he really had no idea who to believe, as he felt the government-controlled news sources could not be relied upon to provide a truthful account of what was really happening, and, even if he could read English, he would be reluctant to trust Western news sources either.

As an employee of China Daily I encounter on a daily basis the worst of China’s state-peddled misinformation and propaganda.

While it is true that Chinese language newspapers are sometimes prepared to go against the grain and report the truth, the reality is that all traditional media sources are state controlled, and those who wish to dig deeper must do so on China’s burgeoning blogosphere.

The cautionary tale of Zhou Shuguang illustrates the dangers Chinese bloggers face when attempting to bring the truth to light.

Zhou gained a measure of fame early last year for documenting the plight of a homeowner in Chongqing who refused to give in to the demands of a property developer and allow his home to be demolished.

Under the pen name Zola, Zhou publicized the case on his blog and provided up to date coverage with video and still images as the dispute progressed.

The publicity Zhou generated eventually led to the authorities reaching an agreement with the homeowner, inspiring Zhou to continue exposing similar cases.

However, his work, which was funded by a mixture of interview payments and donations, came to an abrupt end in November last year after he travelled to the city of Shenyang in northeast China.

There, he met with a number of defrauded investors who had been promised a 30 per cent return for providing for an aphrodisiac powder. The scheme was, of course, (ant) pie-in-the-sky and resulted in an army of angry investors demanding compensation and government action.

On his way to an interview, Zhou was picked up by Chinese police and told in no uncertain terms to get on a plane home and cease his activities.

He has since returned to his native home to open a business selling vegetables.

Zhou’s short-lived crusade raises a number of interesting issues, not least how he managed to keep his blog open.

Unsurprisingly, Zhou Shuguang’s Golden Age blog was added to the list of blacklisted websites soon after he began work, which prevented it being accessed in China.

However, Chinese netizens, led by blogger Isaac Mao are now increasingly hosting their blogs on servers outside the Chinese mainland.

While this still requires viewers to circumnavigate China’s firewall via the use of proxy servers, it does mean they are safe from being totally shut down by the authorities.

As John Kennedy documents on his excellent Global Voices China blog, the work of AIDS and environmental activist Hu Jia has inspired an increasingly net-savvy population to continue using the highly-encrypted services offered by Skype and Gmail to communicate.

Skype drew criticism in 2006 for partnering with TOM Online, a mobile internet company based in China, to restrict Chinese netizens to downloading a modified version of the software that incorporates a sensitive word filter.

However, for those who intend to seriously pursue citizen journalism in China, obtaining original Skype software is not a problem, and Zhou Shuguang used it extensively to interview people regarding the sensitive topics that he covered.

Those who choose to try and provide uncensored and accurate news in China have an expanding array of tools to help them win the battle with the censors, there are also tools to help read and watch their material behind the firewall.

However, as James Fallows says, the wider question remains how many Chinese will be prepared to listen and watch.

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