New York, January 25, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a continuing crackdown on free expression in China. The Communist Party management of the Beijing-based China Youth Daily scrapped the paper’s influential supplement, Bing Dian (Freezing Point), on Tuesday amid a dispute with editors known for challenging free-expression boundaries. And the U.S.-based Internet company Google said today that it agreed to comply with China’s free-speech restrictions by censoring results on its new Chinese search engine.
Officials ordered the closure of Bing Dian after accusing it of “viciously attacking the socialist system” and condemning an article criticizing history textbooks used in Chinese classrooms, according to The Washington Post. It is unclear whether the supplement, which was closed for “rectification,” will be allowed to re-open.
“The closing of Bing Dian is a sad reminder that free expression remains illusory in China,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.
Li drew attention last year after a letter he wrote to China Youth Daily’s government-appointed boss Li Erliang was leaked to the public. In the letter, the editor slammed a proposal to link reporters’ salaries to positive reviews by government officials. That proposal was scrapped.
The shuttering of Bing Dian comes less than a month after the government removed top editors at the Beijing News, another publication known for pushing censorship lines. Reporters there went on strike to protest the move.
Central authorities in China under the administration of Hu Jintao have taken broad steps to tighten control over the press, sometimes with the aid of businesses operating in China’s increasingly commercialized media environment.
Google launched a Chinese search engine today at www.google.cn that does not display items that are blocked by the government in mainland China. For instance, a Chinese-language search of “democracy” reveals only half the results that the American version of the search engine does, omitting all references to dissidents. The top result in a search for “Chinese human rights” is a government page defending the country’s human rights record. And a search for “Committee to Protect Journalists” and “China” reveals no apparent mention of jailed journalists or censorship in the country, as the same search on www.google.com does. A line at the bottom of the search index of the new Chinese Google notifies viewers that some entries have been omitted.
China was the leading jailer of journalists in 2005 for the seventh consecutive year, according to CPJ research.
Google has defended its decision as an attempt to improve its service in China, which has previously been marred by empty links and lengthy delays. Both google.com and google.cn services are currently available to mainland users, a company spokeswoman told CPJ.
“As an emerging economic powerhouse, China is developing rapidly thanks in no small measure to the Internet,” the company said in a statement today. “We firmly believe, with our culture of innovation, Google can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of development in China.”
Other multinational companies operating in China, including Microsoft and Yahoo, which provided authorities with account holder information used to imprison journalist Shi Tao, have come under fire for complicity in government censorship. CPJ honored Shi in 2005 with its International Press Freedom Award.
“The Internet in China has failed to realize its potential for providing an alternate source of independent information and a forum for public debate,” CPJ’s Cooper said. “While the Chinese government has made sure of this, Internet companies have failed to take a strong public stand in defending the ideals of free expression to which they owe their existence.”
Google is currently fighting a U.S. government subpoena of information on individual search requests.