Tens of thousand of people commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong's Victoria Park. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)
Tens of thousand of people commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong's Victoria Park. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

A poor defense of censorship on Tiananmen anniversary

Today, the 24th anniversary of the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square, a Chinese state-run newspaper ran a piece justifying censorship of the Web by citing recent attempts at media regulation abroad.

The nationalist-leaning Global Times published an editorial harping on a recent German federal court decision that ordered Google to remove defamatory autocomplete entries from its search engine after plaintiffs argued their privacy rights were being violated. The piece also calls attention to criticism of an unregulated Internet in the British Parliament and lends support to Turkey’s recent vilification of social media as “the worst menace to society” during ongoing demonstrations in Istanbul. 

The piece underscores how China closely watches foreign governments’ words and actions in regards to media regulation, and opportunely uses them as justifications for its own attempts at censorship.  “Different countries have to choose different policies according to their own actual needs to protect their public interests,” the newspaper wrote.

The Global Times disingenuously claims that China’s policies are “laid on the foundation of the public interest,” rather than attributing its media controls to the Chinese Communist Party’s own fear of losing control. If Chinese authorities were acting in the public interest, its citizens would have the right to information on issues of concern to them. On the anniversary of an event that tore at the fabric of Chinese society, it’s difficult to comprehend how censoring images of big yellow ducks and Lego figures is serving the public interest. People are unable to talk openly, or even subtly, on a matter of extreme historical importance.

Tellingly, the Global Times does not make a single mention of the word “censorship,” and hides behind euphemisms such as “regulation” and “regulatory approaches.”  As CPJ has emphasized in the past, this should serve as a reminder to Western governments that their approach to media can have far-reaching implications in other parts of the world. To compound the problem–as discussed in CPJ’s recent special report on China–Beijing’s complex digital censorship system is admired and emulated by authoritarian regimes around the globe.