I first caught wind of this story when I posted a snippet from a BBC news article here, about the walk-out by about one-hundred journalists at the Beijing News, following the sacking of that publication’s editor. (The above link also contains some interesting related articles on examples of curbs on press freedoms, among other links.)
Since then (also referenced at the above link), Microsoft’s MSN Spaces have shut down a blog by a Mr. Zhao Jing aka Michael Anti, which included breaking news - without commentary - of the firing of the Beijing News editor.
The discussion in numerous weblogs has been fascinating, and very informative, considering that the full facts cannot yet be known.
An interesting little discussion took place on Alford’s earlier post on the topic, where Seth Weinberger suggested, “While it does seem that US companies are cooperating with China to supress civil liberties in order to secure market access, what if that market access eventually transforms China into a more liberal society?” and in line with what he called “western standards”.
The discussion continued along the lines of “incremental progress through market access” and strict contractual rights.
Well, I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t wash with me. The very nature of human rights, as they have developed since - and because of - the second world war is that they are universal, indivisible and inalienable.
Human rights are not market-led: they are universally applicable, and derive from the inherent dignity of the human being. If they were market-led, then the logical outcome would be that the world would still be stuck in 19th-century laissez faire utilitarian societies, with Dickensian working conditions and rights (or lack thereof), with slavery and bonded labour a norm, because the market “dictates” it should be so. It may sound like hyperbole, but I don’t think so, especially since Dickensian working conditions and rights (or lack thereof), with slavery and bonded labour continue to exist in the world today - and that is with the existance of basic human rights standards, labour rights, etc., etc. supposedly at work.
Alford’s second post on the topic is a little more on the mark, as far as I’m concerned, albeit obviously impassioned (which is not grounds for dismissal of his actual points made. It’s amazing how easily salient arguments are thrown to one side by an opposing arguer, simply because of the language in which they are couched. But again, I digress…)
He links to a number of articles and posts, and cites a post my Microsoft’s Michael Connolly.
To which his response is:
Where do I begin critiquing this defense? In essence, Microsoft’s Michael Connolly’s response is as follows:
1. Prior Restraints R Us. We’ve used this system since we launched Spaces, and we have not changed our practice, and we don’t plan to change now just because it is clear that fundamental political speech rights are now at issue.
2. Speech is Speech. We make no attempt to distinguish between sexual speech, commercial speech, and political speech. Any “offensive” speech is subject to monitoring and censorship. We can’t have any political bloggers in China “spoiling the party for everyone.”
3. Only Obscene Speech Gets “Friendly Warnings.” Obscene speech enjoys greater protections than political speech. We give prior warnings to a blogger who posts an obscene image, but a political post by a Chinese blogger will be shut down without warning.
4. Everybody Does It. Microsoft is not alone in censoring political speech in China. Google does it. So does Yahoo. Everyone has to kowtow to Chinese authorities if you want to run an Internet business in China. We are helpless.
5. Due Process, What’s That? If Chinese authorities contact us and inform us that a political post is “offensive,” then ipso facto the Chinese political blogger has violated national law and we have “no choice but to take down the site.” Never mind that no law or regulation has been cited by the Chinese authorities that was transgressed. Never mind that no judicial process was afforded to the blogger to establish that the post was in fact a violation of national law.
6. China Poses “Unique Issues.” We have to respect that China is different from other countries. It severely regulates “certain aspects of speech.” Just like South Africa posed “unique issues” in the 1980s. I suppose we could follow the lead of corporations who did business in South Africa and took a stand against apartheid by implementing the Sullivan Principles of Social Responsibility. But believe me, we have no choice but to aid and abet the infringement of fundamental free speech rights if we want to do business in China.
Thankfully, Robert Scoble, Microsoft’s internal ombudsman blogger, has a post that does not try to defend the practice. “I’ve been raised by people who taught me the value of standing up for the little guy. My mom grew up in Germany. Her mom stood up to the Nazis… Oh, and … Zhao Jing, aka Michael Anti I’d like to offer you a guest blog here on my blog. I won’t censor you and you can write whatever you’d like. Guys over at MSN: sorry, I don’t agree with your being used as a state-run thug.”
Good stuff, Roger.
Make sure you read that blog, y’all.
- RConversation by Rebecca McKinnon. This is a very thorough and detailed view of this issue, by the former CNN China correspondent
- Opinio Juris: More Hazards on Blogging in China (Friday, 06 January, 2006)
- Opinio Juris: Microsoft Defends Censorship of Political Speech in China (Sunday, 08 January, 2006)
- Reporters sans frontières: Do Internet companies need to be regulated to ensure they respect free expression?. (06 January, 2006) (This article also referenced in Rebecca McKinnon’s blog, including links to source material mentioned in the RSF article.)
- New York Times: Microsoft Shuts Blog’s Site After Complaints by Beijing (06 January, 2006)
- SiliconBeat: Includes a statement sent to them from Microsoft, attributed by Microsoft to Brooke Richardson, MSN Group Product Manager (04 January, 2006)
- Robert Scoble: Microsoft takes down Chinese blogger (my opinions on that) (03 January, 2006)
- BBC News: The great firewall of China (Friday, 06 January, 2006) Very interesting piece from their correspondent, Richard Taylor.
Follow these links and the links therein - Very much recommended.