Reporters Without Borders deplores the blocking of video-sharing website YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) in China since 23 March because of content critical of the ruling Communist Party. The foreign ministry’s spokesman said the same day: “Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet. In fact it is just the opposite.”
“If the Chinese government is not afraid of the Internet’s influence, why block all the websites that carry criticism of the Communist Party and why create a national filter designed to ‘clean up’ the Internet?” Reporters Without Borders said. “China’s leaders are extremely intolerant of Internet content and its creators.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We firmly condemn this blocking, which not only prevents the world’s biggest group of Internet users from accessing certain online content but also constitutes a very negative message regarding online free expression in China.”
Google-owned YouTube’s website is inaccessible in most of China’s provinces, Internet users say. When anyone tries to connect, the following message appears: “This page is not available. The Internet page corresponding to the address http://www.youtube.com is not accessible. The site may have changed its address.”
Google spokesman Scott Rubin told Reporters Without Borders: " We are looking into this and working to restore access to YouTube as soon as possible. I can’t confirm the reason for the block, but I do know that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a press conference today in which it confirmed that the government is responsible for the block.”
Many videos showing Chinese repression of the Tibetan population were posted on YouTube in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising of 10 March 1959. A popular video called “Cao Ni Ma” (Grass Mud Horse) was also posted at the start of the month that exploited the possibilities of word play and double entendre in Chinese to defy government censorship.
It prompted the following ban, which the authorities sent to Internet forums: “It is forbidden to promote any content related to Grass Mud Horse or to misinterpret its content. This video has been elevated to a political level and overseas media have turned it into a story about confrontation between netizens and government.” It was removed from YouTube, which was already blocked from 5 to 7 March. In October 2007, YouTube was also blocked when it launched a Chinese-language version aimed at residents of Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The Communist Party exercises a great deal of control over audio and video content on the Internet. Under rules that took effect in January 2008, websites are supposed to obtain prior permission from the authorities before posting audio and video files.
Government control is facilitated by the fact that the Chinese public uses the Internet services created by Chinese companies much more than foreign ones. The Chinese search engine Baidu.cn (which carefully filters out “subversive” content), is used for 60 per cent of searches as against 20 per cent for Google and fewer still for Yahoo!.
China’s most popular blog platform is Sina, which was the first website to obtain a government licence to post news content. It is subject to a self-discipline pact that was imposed by the Internet Society of China (ISC), an offshoot of the information industry ministry, in August 2007. The pact “encourages” websites to register users before letting them post content online and to keep their personal data. In practice, the courts have the power to close sites.
Google’s Chinese-language search engine, Google.cn, has been censored since 2004.