Wed, Jan 07, 2009 - Page 11 News List

Beijing tells 19 top firms to censor ‘vulgar’ content

TARGET Google, Baidu and other popular portals and sites were told to regulate content or face penalties. Some suspect the crackdown had a political motive

THE GUARDIAN , BEIJING

Officials in China on Monday launched a crackdown on “vulgar” Web sites, including Google and the country’s leading search engine, Baidu.

In a highly unusual move, they named 19 leading Internet companies they said failed to censor inappropriate content despite warnings, or did not do so swiftly enough.

The Ministry of Public Security and other government bodies announced the campaign at a meeting, state television reported, showing officials seizing equipment from an office.

The China Internet illegal information reporting center, part of the Internet Society of China, said searches on Google and Baidu produced too many links to obscene or pornographic Web sites and that the sites failed to take “efficient” measures to remove the material. Baidu has captured about two-thirds of the world’s largest Internet population — more than 250 million and growing — with Google in second place.

A Google spokeswoman in China, Cui Jin (崔瑾), said the site was a search engine and did not generate any pornographic content.

“If we find any violation, we will take action. So far, I haven’t seen any examples of violations,” she told the Associated Press.

Public relations representatives for Baidu declined to comment, telling Reuters it was unaware of the announcement.

Others on the list included some of China’s most popular portals and sites, such as Sina, Sohu, Netease and Tianya. Several were accused of carrying tawdry photographs or inappropriate comments on discussion forums or blogs.

The Chinese government frequently launches censorship drives against pornography and Web scams as well as political criticism. Pornography is illegal but widely available in China.

It is unusual for officials to name such prominent targets; the last crackdown singled out much smaller sites. They also threatened “stern punishment” for offenders this time, with the state news agency, Xinhua, reporting that those who refuse to change after receiving warnings could face closure.

“Some Web sites have exploited loopholes in laws and regulations,” said Cai Mingzhao (蔡明照), a deputy chief at the State Council Information Office. “They have used all kinds of ways to distribute content that is low-class, crude and even vulgar, gravely damaging mores on the Internet.”

Last month, Shanghai police detained a woman who sought to profit after her involvement in a sex video that became an online sensation. She had set up a blog advertising her availability for appearances and modeling assignments to make use of her new-found notoriety.

The foreign ministry argues that other countries also block Web content deemed illegal. The issue is particularly sensitive in China because of the heavy censorship of political and social discussion.

Wang Junxiu (王俊秀), a blog pioneer and critic of censorship, said the new campaign might have more to do with taming online opinion than stamping out pornography.

“I’d guess that this is in response to all the sensitive dates in 2009. They want to tighten up,” Wang told Reuters. “We’ve had crackdowns on pornography since the start and they’ve never worked, so there must be more than that. It’s a warning.”

This year sees the anniversaries of the 1959 uprising, which sparked the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet, the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989 and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

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