Joining usual suspects like Syria, Iran, China and North Korea among the so-called Enemies of the Internet, Bahrain and Belarus have joined a list of 12 countries, which the international press freedom advocate, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), says are guilty of cyber censorship and restricting the freedom of information. To mark this year’s World Day Against Cyber Censorship (March 12), RSF has released its latest report on the world’s worst offenders of Internet censoship. The “Enemies of the Internet” list includes Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. RSF says Bahrain and Belarus were added to the list after the organization found those countries to have increased efforts to restrict the flow of information. But the countries have not been ranked individually. Matthias Spielkamp from the German branch of Reporters Without Borders says the methods of cyber censorship are too varied and too numerous to allow a clear ranking. For example, China, Iran and Vietnam feature for the imprisonment of 120 bloggers and online activists, while Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are cited for censorship. Several online activists were killed in 2011 in Bahrain, Mexico, India and Syria. A second report just published details those countries which RSF says are “under surveillance.” It includes 14 countries: Australia, Egypt, Eritrea, France, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. But the organization admits that even this list is incomplete. Its main report also mentions Morocco, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Tajikistan
Beijing authorities on Friday ordered Internet microblogs to require users to register with their real names, a tightening of rules aimed at controlling China’s rapidly growing social networks. An announcement posted online said all microblog companies registered in the capital had to enforce real name registration within three months. The rules, jointly issued by the Beijing government, police and Internet management office, apparently apply to all 250 million users of the hugely popular Twitter-like service Weibo.com, regardless of location, because its operator, Chinese Web portal Sina Corp., is headquartered in Beijing. Sina rival Tencent Holdings is based in the southern city of Shenzhen. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the company’s microblog service would have to comply with the same rules. China had more than 485 million Internet users as of the end of June, the most of any country in the world. The new rules explicitly forbid use of microblogging to “incite illegal assembly.” Public protests are illegal in China and are a concern for the Communist leadership
Warner Bros Entertainment will distribute on-demand movies in China starting this summer, through an agreement with China’s YOU On Demand Holdings Inc, Warner Bros said in a statement on Wednesday. Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc , will be the first studio to offer films in China via this method and will have the potential to reach 200 million cable households through YOU On Demand’s pay-per-view and video-on-demand platform. Warner Bros, which distributes the popular Harry Potter movie franchise, could be available to as many as 3 million households by the end of the summer. Foreign movies are available in cinemas through a quota system that limits the number of foreign movies screened in China each year. Otherwise, foreign movies are widely accessible to the public on pirated DVDs that can be bought on the black market for less than a dollar. The problem of rampant piracy has robbed Hollywood studios and music production companies of millions in profit in the world’s most populous country.
China is on course to build a record number of cinemas this year in a burst of movie infrastructure development that is partly aimed at rivalling the “soft power” of Hollywood. Following the state-backed expansion of China’s TV and newspaper industries since 2009, the government is promoting a major push of film production and distribution. The state council, China’s cabinet, has issued new guidelines for the booming industry that have helped film-makers secure bank loans and reach a wider audience. Despite the widespread piracy of films – which means illegal DVDs often go on sale within days of a new cinema release – the authorities are ramping up cinema construction to draw more audiences to screenings. Industry analysts says the speed of growth – a reflection of a wider economic boom as much as state policy – is so fast that China could start to overtake the US in key benchmarks. Last year the government reportedly injected £4bn into Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV, and the People’s Daily newspaper in a move to strengthen the country’s media voice. All of these organisations have subsequently ramped up their English language content in a bid to counter what is widely seen in Beijing as a biased western media and an overly strong advocacy of western values. Xiang Yong, deputy director of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Beijing University, sees the promotion of the domestic film industry as “an important way to strengthen the soft power of our country.”
Brazil, Russia, India, China and Indonesia will double their Internet users to 1.2 billion by 2015, fueling growth at media companies and phone carriers, according to Boston Consulting Group. By then, the countries will have three times the Internet users of the United States and Japan combined, up from about two times at the end of 2009, the consulting firm said in a report released last week. Personal computers will double in the five countries to more than 920 million, and mobile phones with Internet access will aid growth, according to the report. As consumers gain more access to the Net, they’ll spend more time online, providing a boon to entertainment providers, the report said. Boston Consulting added Indonesia to the group because of its 240 million population and its proportion of mobile-phone users, which at 66 percent is higher than China and India, said David Michael, the report’s lead author. Indonesia’s wireless subscriptions will top 100 percent of the population by 2015, meaning some users will have multiple devices, according to Boston Consulting. Twenty percent of China’s population owns a personal computer, and tens of millions get online at Internet cafes, giving China 384 million Internet users at the end of last year, almost triple the total in 2006, the report said. In India, only 7 percent of the population was using the Internet at the end of 2009, the lowest of the five countries in the report. Indian users spend half an hour online a day, and productivity functions such as e-mail and job-hunting are their most popular activities. That will change as media companies take advantage of the growth in users, which will reach 19 percent by 2015, Michael said. Internet users in Brazil and Russia will surge by 2015 to 74 percent and 55 percent of the population from about one-third last year, according to the report.
Developers of China’s Green Dam Internet filter have not received government funding in the past year, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday, placing in doubt the future of the much-criticized software. China delayed indefinitely the plan to force PC manufacturers to bundle the Green Dam software with computers sold in the country in June last year, after critics denounced the plan as ineffective. Software developer Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy had closed the office where the software was promoted and maintained, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported, citing the company’s general manager. The company and another software developer Zhengshou Jinhui had received CNY 41.7m (USD 6.16m) in May 2008 to develop the software, the report added. Beijing had said the Green Dam software was designed to block objectionable images and stamp out Internet pornography, but faced criticism that the program strengthened China’s ability to censor political content.
Chinese social networking websites that provide Twitter-like services have suddenly reverted to testing mode and access has been spotty amid reports of a government clampdown. Although Twitter has been banned for more than a year in China, Chinese Internet companies have been quick to fill the void, providing microblogging services that allow users to post frequent updates and follow other posters. On Wednesday, NetEase.com Inc’s microblog (t.163.com) was inaccessible. A notice said the site had been down since 7 p.m. on Tuesday and was under maintenance. Sohu.com Inc’s microblog (t.sohu.com) was also shut down for more than a day earlier in the week and all Chinese “twitters” now display the notice “in testing mode.” Company sources told Reuters that the developments were the result of tightened government controls over the new services. The Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post cited unnamed “industry sources” as saying that the websites were under pressure from Chinese censors.
A Hong Kong journalists’ group has demanded the semi autonomous government lobby Beijing for better protection after local reporters and cameramen allegedly faced rough treatment, bogus drug accusations and denial of press credentials in the mainland the past year. While mainland China maintains tight media controls, this former British colony enjoys freedom of press as part of its special political status. A Hong Kong Journalists Association’s 2010 annual report issued Sunday urged the Hong Kong government to “make it clear to Chinese leaders that harassment and detention of journalists is totally unacceptable.” The association said the level of interference Hong Kong reporters faced while working on the mainland in the past year was the worst in 10 years. The Hong Kong Journalists Association also urged the Hong Kong government to make radio RTHK an independent public broadcaster — instead of keeping it as a government department — and to review broadcasting legislation in light of the failure of pro-democracy activists to obtain a radio station license.
Baidu Inc, China’s leading search engine, will start hiring software engineers directly from the United States early next month, as it seeks to expand its technological capabilities and raise its global profile. Baidu stands to be the biggest beneficiary in China’s search sector after Google Inc relocated its China servers to Hong Kong following a high-profile spat with Beijing over censorship and hacking. Baidu would hire 30 mid-to senior-level software engineers from Silicon Valley at a job fair on July 10 to drive new technology projects, its first direct hiring from the United States, a Baidu spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday. Baidu is a household name in China but not well known overseas. Baidu Japan, the firm’s venture into the Japanese search market, has been loss-making ever since its inception. The hiring is significant as it shows that Baidu, traditionally domestically focused, is eager to raise its profile overseas and plug into talent outside China. The move also comes as other Chinese Internet firms, such as Tencent Holdings, China’s largest Internet firm by market value, are starting to invest overseas. The migration to a new search keyword system has also fueled revenue growth, leading to the need for more software engineers, said a Baidu spokesman.
For the last three months, Google has found a clever way to overcome its ethical objections to self-censoring search results on its Web site for mainland China, google.cn. It has automatically redirected Chinese users to an uncensored search site, google.com.hk, maintained on the company’s servers in Hong Kong. There was only one problem with this solution: the Chinese government objected to it. On Monday night, Google acknowledged those objections in a blog post written by David Drummond, its chief legal officer. Mr. Drummond wrote that the Chinese government was ready to reject Google’s application for renewal of its Internet Content Provider license, which would effectively mean the company would have to shut down its Web site in the country entirely. The license renewal application is due on Wednesday. Mr. Drummond wrote that in an effort to continue to serve Google’s Chinese users while placating the government, the company is proposing a compromise. In the next few days, it will stop automatically redirecting users to its Hong Kong site. Instead, Chinese users will see a page at google.cn which offers a single link to the Hong Kong site, where they can conduct searches or use other Google services, like translation and music, that require no filtering. The company said it had resubmitted its content provider license based on this approach and hopes the Chinese government will find it more palatable. If the government continues to object, Google would lose its ability to operate a Web site in China altogether.