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.
Online media outlets can only be shut down for extremist comments left on their forums if they fail to comply with official requests to delete the comments, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, RIA-Novosti reported. User posts on forums without moderation are to be treated the same way as live speeches on radio or television, for which the broadcasters cannot be held responsible, said Supreme Court deputy chief justice Vasily Nechayev. The ruling only covers forums of web sites that are registered as media outlets. Federal anti-extremist legislation allows courts to close media outlets that receive two warnings for extremist content, which includes promoting hatred based on ethnicity, social status and profession, as well as calling for the violent overthrow of the government. Promoting extremism is punishable by up to three years in prison and up to five years if done through the mass media. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, authorities had the option of shutting down online media outlets for comments on their forums, even if the comments were not endorsed by the editors.
France and the Netherlands have joined forces to develop an international code of conduct against Internet censorship, the Dutch foreign ministry said Tuesday. The foreign ministers from both countries met in Rotterdam and expressed concern over a recent rise in Internet censorship. A pilot group is due to meet in the coming weeks in Paris, and will bring together governments, rights organisations and web-based businesses all working to protect freedom on the Internet, the French foreign ministry said. As well as the code of conduct, the working group will aim to set up at the international level a mechanism to track the commitments made by governments regarding freedom of expression on the Internet.
Pakistan has blocked the popular video sharing website YouTube indefinitely in a bid to contain “blasphemous” material, officials said on Thursday. The blockade came after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed Internet service providers to block access to social network site Facebook indefinitely on Wednesday because of an online competition to draw the Prophet Mohammad. Any representation of the Prophet Mohammad is deemed un-Islamic and blasphemous by Muslims. Wahaj-us-Siraj, the CEO of Nayatel, an Internet service provider, said the PTA issued an order late on Wednesday seeking an “immediate” block on YouTube, which is owned Internet giant Google. YouTube was also blocked in the Muslim country in 2007 for about a year for what Pakistan called un-Islamic videos. Some other websites, including Wikipedia and Flickr, have been inaccessible in Pakistan since Wednesday night. But the authority’s spokesman said those sites had been blocked for technical reasons and no orders had been issued against them.
Bahrain has suspended local operations of the Qatari broadcaster al-Jazeera and barred a crew from travelling to the Gulf Arab state, accusing the channel of flouting press rules. Al-Jazeera, with a record of tense relations with Arab states over its coverage of sensitive political topics, recently aired programmes on poverty and the treatment of Asian labourers, both sensitive matters in Bahrain. “Bahrain has temporarily frozen the office of the Qatari al-Jazeera satellite TV channel for breaching the professional media norms and flouting the laws regulating the press and publishing,” the official Bahrain News Agency said, without giving details.
In Tunisia, the volume of protest against internet censorship is rising. A group of young Tunisians and web activists has started a campaign planned to run throughout May to confront the electronic censor, whom they mockingly refer to as ‘Ammar 404’. Pressure on the press authorities to back down has grown, with the protests including a petition that aims to amass 10,000 signatures against censorship, 4,000 of which have already been collected. Activists have also flooded internet websites and networks with photos and videos. The campaign has encouraged internet users to overcome the barrier of fear and even show their faces to express their protest. The website ammar405, which was blocked a few hours after its appearance, featured protestors disclosing their names and surnames in an attempt to mock or even provoke the Tunisian censor
China is on the verge of requiring telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to halt and report leaks of what the government deems to be state secrets, the latest in a series of moves intended to strengthen the government’s control over private communications. The proposed amendment to the state secrets law, reported Tuesday by the state news media, defines a state secret broadly and loosely as information that, if disclosed, would damage China’s security or interests in political, economic, defense and other realms. The amendment was submitted Monday to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, for a third reading, the final step before being signed into law. Few measures reach that point in China without being adopted. The wording of the amendment, as cited by the state-controlled newspaper China Daily, suggested that Internet and telecommunications companies would have to take a more proactive stance in identifying leaks of state secrets and their sources. The paper said companies must detect, report and delete unauthorized disclosures. But reports by the state-run news agency Xinhua seemed less definitive about whether the companies must independently scour online transmissions for forbidden information or simply cooperate with the authorities if they suspect transgressions
China’s press watchdog blacklisted nearly one hundred media workers in 2009 for illegal deeds like bribery and blackmail, with more than 20 journalists convicted of offenses. According to Li Dongdong, deputy head of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), more than ten newspapers nationwide, including the Beijing Times and the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald, received warnings or were suspended for rectification for publishing false reports in 2009. The figures came after reports in late March that nine journalists from eight media organizations had received jail sentences – ranging from one-and-half year to 16 years – for taking hush money to cover up a deadly coal mine accident in north China. The GAPP will strengthen supervision and management of media organizations that have repeatedly violated rules, Li said Wednesday at a nationwide meeting here on the management of newspapers and periodicals. The GAPP dealt with 556 cases – including 76 instances of journalists taking bribes or blackmailing others – in 2009 after receiving tipoffs from the public. Li said authorities will step up punishment of media workers involved in false stories and bribery, vowing to make public any major cases that are confirmed