President Obama Must Press China on Web Censorship

In China, Google is forced to censor its search engine, Facebook and Twitter are blocked, U.S. news agencies are barred from selling their services freely, and foreign investment in the media industry is closely watched. Yet when President Obama visits the country in a few days, it's unknown if he will publicly pressure the Chinese government on issues of censorship or free expression.

The president yesterday defended his position on these issues, saying, "We believe in the values of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, that are not just core American values but we believe are universal values."

This is a critical time for him to speak up because China appears to be increasing its efforts to censor Internet content, while also cracking down on journalists and bloggers. At the same time, the Obama administration has been sending mixed signals on democracy and human rights to China. For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted the 20th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, and called on the Chinese government to "provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal." But she also celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China by congratulating the Party for its "truly historic accomplishment" of "lifting millions of people out of poverty."

Meanwhile, Yang Zili, a young engineer who spent eight years in prison, recently urged President Obama to intercede on behalf of two colleagues still being held in custody. Their offense? Creating a website.

It's true that gratuitous criticism towards China rarely produces results; but excessive restraint is also ineffective. Human right issues cannot be raised only in private, which is why it's important to review some of China's recent abuses of freedom of expression, and its renewed efforts at online censorship.

Cyber-Dissidents in Jail

Beginning around 2003, the Internet started emerging as a major tool for exposing corruption and abuse of power, and for putting pressure on China's central and provincial governments. Today, China has the largest population of Internet users on the planet. It also has 58 cyber-dissidents in jail. In terms of press freedom, China is ranked 168th in Reporters Without Borders' 2009 World Press Freedom Index, out of 175 countries.

In Xinjiang, Chinese authorities launched a crackdown that includes blocking many forms of Internet communication. The region's Internet has been reduced to an intranet that prevents Uyghurs from providing the outside world with detailed information about their situation.

In October, Reporters Without Borders surveyed the level of access provided to websites dedicated to the Uyghur community. These sites, operated by Uyghurs for Uyghurs, are for the most part inaccessible to Internet users based in Xinjiang, and those abroad. More than 85 percent of the surveyed sites were blocked, censored or otherwise unreachable.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Hailaite Niyazi, an Uyghur journalist and the former editor of the Uighurbiz website, was arrested. His family was told three days later that he was suspected of "endangering national security." His arrest appears to have been prompted by an interview he gave about the Xinjiang regional government's attitude towards recent riots. (In the past, authorities have accused Uighurbiz of "encouraging violence" in Xinjiang.)

In Tibet, there have been ongoing arrests and trials of journalists, bloggers and Internet users since March 2008. Three young Tibetans from the village of Dara have been held in jail since early October, when they were arrested for allegedly sending information about Tibet to contacts outside of the country.

Erecting Dams on the Internet

Silencing dissidents is only one part of China's censorship strategy. Last summer, the Chinese government introduced "Green Dam," new piece of filtering software. Chinese officials claim it's designed to protect children from pornographic content online. However, a study of Green Dam by the OpenNet Initiative showed that its key-word filtering was not very effective for porn, yet it was very good at blocking political, cultural and news websites, among other targets.

More recently, Internet service providers in the southern province of Guangdong have been installing a new type of filtering software called Landun (which translates to "Blue Shield" or "Blue Dam"). It's even more powerful than its problematic predecessor. According to an article in the Hong-Kong based Apple Daily, Chinese network providers were given until September 13 to install Blue Shield and avoid being sanctioned. Blue Shield is said to be more powerful than Green Dam and its installation is obligatory, not optional, as the authorities had reportedly promised. It is intended to provide stronger protection against porn sites and to increase the monitoring and filtering capabilities of Internet connections.

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Congress has taken notice of China's stepped-up efforts to control the web. In June, Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) introduced a resolution "expressing grave concerns about the sweeping censorship, privacy, and cyber-security implications of China's Green Dam filtering software, and urging U.S. high-tech companies to promote the Internet as a tool for transparency, freedom of expression, and citizen empowerment around the world."

Chinese Censorship: Made in the USA?

American firms are also involved in Chinese censorship. Cisco Systems helped build the entire Chinese Internet infrastructure, including the mechanisms to censor the web. Yahoo aided the Chinese government in jailing four dissidents by giving their personal data to Chinese authorities. Speaking to shareholders at the Yahoo annual meeting in June, CEO Carol Bartz was questioned about the company's policies in China in light of Green Dam and other controversies.

"We made a mistake, and you can't hold us up as the bad boy forever," she said, referring to the release of information that led to the arrest of the journalists. "It's not our job to fix the Chinese government. It's that simple."

Maybe it's not Yahoo's job. But President Obama has a responsibility to advocate for freedom and democracy, and he should do so publicly when he visits China on November 15.

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

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Chinese Online Video Companies Fight for Market Share, Licenses

Chinese P2P startup Xunlei has sued its competitor Sohu for copyright infringement, according to the Shenzen Daily. Xunlei is alleging that Sohu’s search engine, Sogou, is infringing on copyrights related to Xunlei’s P2P software as well as its own search engine, Gougou.com. Sohu had previously filed its own copyright infringement lawsuits against Xunlei and other Chinese P2P vendors.

China has long been a P2P video wunderkind of sorts. Efforts to establish P2P-based consumer video platforms like Joost and Babelgum have largely failed in the U.S. and Europe, but similar offerings attract millions of users in China. However, the Chinese market is saturated with literally dozens of video vendors, and efforts to grow their business beyond the PC have stalled due to strict government licensing requirements.

Xunlei is a popular Chinese P2P client that combines BitTorrent with web-based downloads. The company’s Gougou.com search engine links to TV shows and movies hosted on various ftp servers and web sites. Users can download these files and automatically accelerate their downloads through Xunlei’s P2P functionality. Gougou obfuscates these links in order to get users to access the content with its own client and sign up for its premium services, which include remote downloading to Xunlei’s servers.

However, that didn’t stop Sohu from allegedly crawling these sites as well and publishing the direct download links without any Xunlei-specific code. Xunlei wasn’t too happy about that and decided to sue last week. Some reports suggest the lawsuits include complaints about cracked versions of Xunlei appearing in Sohu search results. Sohu previously sued Xunlei for broadcasting a TV series that the company had exclusive online rights for, and it recently announced further lawsuits against Xunlei and other competitors under the helm of a newly formed “Online Video Copyright Union.”

You know the fight for market share is getting ugly when online video companies do the dirty work for rights holders and sue each other for copyright infringement. The irony of these lawsuits is that much of the content indexed by both search engines clearly isn’t licensed to begin with. We asked both companies for their side of the story, but haven’t heard back from Xunlei, and just got a brief “no comment” from Sohu.

The lawsuits shouldn’t really surprise anyone who has been following the Chinese online video industry. The country is home to a number of large P2P video platforms as well as YouTube-like sites. P2P streaming service PPLive, for example, touts up to 30 million active viewers per month, and YouTube-like Youku boasts 140 million visitors per month. Both compete with at least a handful of similar services, many of which also have an impressive user base. There isn’t one clear market leader like YouTube in the U.S., and Chinese online video business models still seem to be in a flux.

At the same time, it’s been getting harder for Chinese video ventures to grow their market beyond the PC audience. PPStream and Xunlei have tried to get their platforms on set-top boxes and connected TV sets, but those efforts have stalled because of the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. The government agency views set-top box offerings as equal to over-the-air or cable television programming, which means that online video startups would need to get a special Internet TV license. That hurdle seems to be so high that a Chinese TV set manufacturer actually canceled plans to include PPStream in one of its connected TV sets in September.

Dispatches From Fox Nation: China Is Bad, And NYC Is Part Of The Problem

foxnation_9-29Dispatches From Fox Nation:

There are a couple truths over there in the Fox Nation, Fox News’ community/opinion offshoot of Foxnews.com. China and communism are bad. New Yorkers are liberals and part of the problem with this country. Luckily, there has been a story at the top of the site last night and this morning that can cover both bases!

Headlined, “Empire State Bldg Turns Red & Yellow to Celebrate 60th Anniv. of Communist China??” the post links to a short wire story with a similar headline (without the “communist” adjective and the double question marks).

Here’s the key part:

New York’s iconic Empire State Building will light up red and yellow Wednesday in honor of the 60th anniversary of communist China. The Chinese consul, Peng Keyu, and other officials will take part in the lighting ceremony which will bathe the skyscraper in the colors of the People’s Republic until Thursday, Empire State Building representatives said in a statement.

This is apparently very bad, and really just indicative of the direction Pres. Barack Obama (middle name is Hussein, by the way) is taking this great country of ours. The Empire State Building will be red and yellow?! We might as well just hand the whole damn thing over to China right now…

New York City is diverse, with more than 600,000+ Chinese residents. And the Empire State Building frequently is lit to honor other countries – there seems to be significant less outrage when it reflects the colors of Ireland or Italy.

The commenters at Fox Nation dismissed the story as a non-issue in the grand scheme of things, with health care, higher taxes and other priorities being the focus of their dismay. Just kidding! Here’s a sampling:

“MHnTX” took the story to its next logical conclusion-

I have never met a statist who wasn’t ultimately a thug supporter… next Independence Day, they will probably want to fly the sickle and hammer above the Red, White and Blue too.

“peterd1958″ went all caps with his theory-

THE NEXT THING THEY GOING TO ANNOUNCE IS THE TALIBAN HISTORY MONTH & THEY WILL COVER THE STATUE OF LIBERTY WITH A BURKA

Well if those events happen, the Fox Nation will surely be there to cover it.

Do you see something of interest at The Fox Nation? Email it to Steve@Mediaite.com…

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