After Internet authorities asked Google to stop disseminating pornographic images and information on its Chinese service website last week, a section of Western media reacted strongly and suggested the Chinese government's move was a "cover for detecting and blocking sensitive political content".
Media organizations in certain Western countries seem particularly interested in China's Internet "censorship". As a Chinese journalist, I sometimes travel to those countries. And almost every time I've had a chat with my Western counterparts, they've asked me what I thought about "media censorship" in China.
"Call it 'censorship' if you want to," I've replied, "I believe there have to be regulations on what is accessible in information vehicles, be they traditional media forms or the cyber world." And I've told my friends that their countries, too, have imposed regulations to prevent the spread of "harmful content" on the Net.
The definition of "harmful" or "improper" is not absolute. Who can tell if it does not include "political content"? For instance, there were reports as early as the mid-1990s about "G7 threat to online free speech and privacy".
A Western organization called "Coalition of Online Civil Liberties Organizations" revealed major Western nations "have endorsed a number of restrictions and controls on the Internet. These include the prohibition or censorship of sources that may contain 'dangerous' information, restrictions on electronic speech of unpopular political organizations, and the imposition of 'key escrow' or other means of allowing governments to violate privately encrypted correspondence."
I don't know the specific content of the above-mentioned "restrictions and controls", but I would support them if they were really against "dangerous information" detrimental to those societies.
The Chinese authorities' recent move to prevent Google's pornographic content from reaching users in the country was taken because porn-pollution in the cyber world has become really serious, and it is especially harmful to youngsters. Chinese parents are worried. They are desperate to wean their kids away from addiction to unhealthy content on the Net.
According to authoritative statistics, 48.28 percent of Chinese youths have "contacted porn websites" and 14.49 have suffered financial loss, or physical or mental harm by following or trying to follow such information in reality.
Some of the cases are appalling. For example, the media in Fujian province reported a few days ago that a 16-year-old boy forced his mother to give him money to visit a Net caf, even though his seriously injured father was under severe pain because the family didn't have enough money for his medical treatment.
Another report on Sunday from Hefei, Anhui province, said a 17-year-old girl stabbed and seriously injured her father when he tried to take her home from an Internet bar. The girl had been spending most of her time in Internet cafs for two years.
Given this horrible reality, how could any government remain indifferent to "free" and unlimited information on everything on the Net?
As for political content, China's Internet websites are enjoying a lot more freedom than before. Many opinions critical of the Chinese government are posted online. Some comments even criticize the Communist Party of China's former leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. But the government has not taken any action to screen them. Anyone who has doubts can read them on the "opinion forums" of major Chinese Internet portals such as sina.com and sohu.com.
And still some Western media fail to see the point of blocking harmful information on the Net.
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