Censorship in Asia: Against the Tide

The Economist’s Banyan blog surveys the state of censorship in Asia, following the Malaysian Prime Minister’s conclusion that “in today’s borderless, interconnected world, censoring newspapers and magazines is increasingly outdated, ineffective and unjustifiable.” Noting China’s continued harmonisation of the newspaper’s print edition with “the trusted old slash-and-blotch methods”, the post moves on to the online arena:

… China has more users of the internet than any other country, yet its censors battle the medium, convinced that they can win. The foreign press is the easy part. There are ways around the blockage of websites that the censors do not like. But relatively few people have the will, time or money to bother finding them.

The domestic internet poses more of a challenge, however. Deleted postings on social-networking sites immediately pop up elsewhere; banned internet-search terms morph into bizarre homonyms; small incidents such as hit-and-run road accidents become national scandals. And national scandals, such as the high-speed train crash on July 23rd, news of which the authorities would have liked quietly to bury along with the wreckage, suddenly become enormous political problems.

The battle between the Chinese Communist Party and the internet seems fairly evenly matched. When Urumqi, in the western region of Xinjiang, was racked by ethnic violence in 2009, the authorities simply switched the internet off in Xinjiang for ten months. A strange new phenomenon, the internet-café border town, sprang up along the railway line to the east to cater for Xinjiang residents who wanted to get online. China, further alarmed by the alleged role of social networks in the recent riots in Britain, might well counter renewed regional unrest with another local internet shutdown.

But this is hardly an option for China as a whole. Not only might Hong Kong struggle to cope with an influx of more than 450m Chinese internet users needing to check their e-mails; China cannot, in effect, resign from the global economy. Asian governments are stuck with the internet which, worryingly for the dictatorships among them, seems as integral to the future as black blotches on newsprint seem to the past.

Source: Against the tide – The Economist