Thursday, February 28, 2008

Internet Censorship in China

The Chinese government is notorious for having extreme censorship laws on public and private communication and information sources. The internet has not been immune from this censorship and in recent times people within China have been punished for accessing resources or publishing material the Chinese government deem inappropriate.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics will bring a flood of foreigners to China who are used to basically unrestricted internet access, however China is known for its stringent censorship laws. Aimee McIntosh spoke with David Tien a Chinese expatriate and Annamarie Reus a journalist about what effect Chinas watchful eye might have on tourists and journalists coming for the games.

David said that China’s current internet access rate is at about 12%, and that that would mean almost all people in cities access the internet. He explained how internet censorship in China works:

“There are two levels, one level is quite similar to the west, they don't want child pornography or how to make bombs for example. The other level has political concern; the (Chinese) Leadership don't want rumours spreading around. For example if you do a search on the Falun Gung movement, a lot of articles are blocked.”

One of the reasons internets is so often criticised or praised is because it is so difficult to police and monitor, Aimee asked David if people within China are finding ways to access information that is prohibited, In spite of heavy policing?

“There are ways to elude censorship; one of the common ways is to use a proxy server, which is located between the user and the website. The three well known ones are called the three musketeers.”

When China have hosted public events in the past, such as the APEC summit in Shanghai in 2001, China are said to have eased censorship laws and allowed access to banned websites temporarily, David said it was likely the same would happen during the Olympics but that it would be a temporary change.

“Even in Sydney during the Olympics everyone was on their best behaviour. I say that will possibly happen in China as well but once the games finish it will probably reverse back to normal.”

Annamarie Reus has worked as a journalist both within Australia and overseas for over a decade, she currently works for national radio news, Aimee spoke with her about what impact internet censorship might have on covering the Olympic Games.

Annamarie said the internet has become central to reporting on any event.

“Since the introduction of the internet I think it's not just about levelling off freedom of speech for different countries but it’s also about helping the work of a lot of journalists in different parts of the world. In particular technology has allowed quick access to information. I can't begin to emphasise how important the internet has become to journalists.”

“I remember when the Olympics happened in Australia, the moment any negative information came out about China, suddenly you couldn't access any comprehensive background information about those athletes.”

Annamarie said she thought it was essential for journalists to be familiar with China’s internet censorship laws so they could be sure their material was going to be accessible within China.

“I have been studying how I as a journalist can cover China, I have started looking up possibilities of where I could get my information from, and I have discovered just how difficult it is to get information. There’s already a few journalists (within China) who have ended up in gaol because they have used certain words. Words like freedom, democracy, Tianamen, human rights and democracy.”

“There is what they call the great firewall of china. There is actually an existent firewall in China that you can't get around. The people that recently ended up in gaol were the people who understood how firewalls worked and actually got around it. But after their reporting China pressured the service provider to provide the information and trace the journalists, and they all ended up in gaol.”

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