Saturday, January 07, 2006

The State May Not Be Your Friend

But neither is Microsoft. Or Yahoo.

"The blog was removed last week from a Microsoft service called MSN Spaces after the blog discussed the firing of the independent-minded editor of The Beijing News, which prompted about 100 journalists at the paper to go on strike on Dec. 29. It was an unusual show of solidarity for a Chinese news organization in an industry that has long complied with tight restrictions on what can be published.

The move by Microsoft came at a time when the Chinese government is stepping up its own efforts to crack down on press freedom. Several prominent editors and journalists have been jailed in China over the past few years and charged with everything from espionage to revealing state secrets.

Another research assistant for The Times, Zhao Yan (no relation to Zhao Jing), was indicted last month on charges that he had passed state secrets to the newspaper, which published a report in 2004 about the timing of Jiang Zemin's decision to give up the country's top military post.

China closely monitors what people here post on the Internet, and the government regularly shuts down Web sites and deletes postings that are considered antigovernment. A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the company had blocked ''many sites'' in China. The MSN Spaces sites are maintained on computer servers in the United States.

Richardson of Microsoft said Zhao's site was taken down after the Chinese authorities made a request through a Shanghai-based affiliate of the company.

The shutdown drew attention and condemnation elsewhere online. Rebecca MacKinnon, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, wrote on her blog, referring to Microsoft and other technology companies: ''Can we be sure they won't do the same thing in response to potentially illegal demands by an overzealous government agency in our own country?''

Robert Scoble, a blogger and Microsoft's official ''technology evangelist,'' took a public stand against the action.

''This one is depressing to me,'' he wrote. ''It's one thing to pull a list of words out of blogs using an algorithm. It's another thing to become an agent of a government and censor an entire blogger's work.''

Another American online service operating in China, Yahoo, was widely criticized in the autumn after it was revealed that the company had provided Chinese authorities with information that led to the imprisonment of a Chinese journalist who kept a personal e-mail account with Yahoo. Yahoo also defended its action by saying it was forced to comply with local law.

Zhao is so well known as a blogger that he served as China's lone jury member last year in Germany for a world blog competition.

Zhao, in an interview, said he had kept a personal blog for more than a year and was regularly censored in China, even though he had tried to be careful not to write about significant issues related to his work at The Times.

He was apparently one of the first on the Internet to mention that several editors could be fired from The Beijing News. He said he posted something about possible firings on Dec. 28. Two days later, after the top editor there was dismissed, Reuters reported that about a hundred journalists had gone on strike over the dispute and added that several Chinese blogs and Internet chat rooms were discussing the issue. The report said Zhao had used his blog to urge readers to cancel their subscriptions.

Zhao said in the interview that Microsoft had deleted his blog with no warning.

''I didn't even say I supported the strike,'' he said. ''This action by Microsoft infringed upon my freedom of speech. They even deleted my blog and gave me no chance to back up my files without any warning.''


Anonymous said...

Come on libertarians this is where you jump up and stoutly defend the right of billion dollar corporations to dictate what use is made of their services and products.

Anonymous said...

All quiet on the libertarian front.