China Substitutes `Spin’ for Suppression as Web Weakens Control

Dune Lawrence reports in Bloomberg News:

While the government has encouraged the rapid adoption of technology to enhance China’s global competitiveness, the increasing access also represents a growing challenge to a single-party state’s monopoly on power as the avenues for public expression multiply.

… In a June speech during a visit to the Communist Party newspaper, People’s Daily, President Hu Jintao urged that the party and government “perfect our system of news release” and “actively set the agenda” for unfolding events, disseminating “authoritative information at the earliest moment” and “grasping the initiative in news propaganda.”

Online Discussion

Officials at all levels are following Hu’s advice, some by hiring people to nip negative online discussions in the bud. An Internet search turns up announcements like this one from Chongqing that explains their duties:

“In order to further purify the Internet environment, Wanzhou District Internet Propaganda Leading Group has started setting up a Web commentator team,” the Feb. 21 notice says. “Commentators’ work includes online comment on articles, news threads, blogs, etc.” along with “relaxing” public emotion and “refuting rumors.”

All this doesn’t mean the central government has abandoned its traditional techniques to tame the flow of information: It still blocks many Web sites focused on topics such as Tibetan independence and employs censors to track down and delete content it disagrees with. Cyber cafes, where many Chinese access the Web, must install filtering software, monitor users’ activities and record their identities under Chinese law.

November 17, 2008, 10:55 PM
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