China's ongoing attempts to censor internet content | Asia Pacific

China's ongoing attempts to censor internet content

China's ongoing attempts to censor internet content

Posted 8 June 2011, 22:03 AEST

China has banned banned 43 pornographic novels published online.

The move is part of China's ongoing attempts to censor what it sees as illegal content on the internet.

And while China's clampdown of internet sites is not new, it is debatable whether its continued expenditure on internet censorship, is effective.

Reporter: Kanaha Sabapathy

Professor Li Yin He, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing; Colin Jacobs, Chair, Electronic Frontiers Australia

SABAPATHY: In 1997 when the internet was still a new concept for most Chinese the MInistry of Public Security enacted the China Regulations on Internet Security Protection.

This regulation not only prohibits the dissemination of internet pornographic material but also bans other sites like western news outlets, Taiwanese commentary sites and anti China dissident sites for distributing offending information.

Because of its international reach China fears the internet could be used by activists to stir political dissent and corrupt Chinese morals. So China is spending massive amount of resources to stamp out these offending websites says Prof. Li Yin He from the Institute of Sociolology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

LI: There are many many government person working on it. They check every day every page and they also have a hotline to ask general people to report when you see any pornography on the internet you report it. And if the man is arrested you can get some reward.

SABAPATHY: Colin Jacobs is the Chair for Electronic Frontiers Australia. He says China's phobia about political chatrooms are understable but why fear pornographic novels?

JACOBS: Human beings are the same around the world and sexuality is one topic that is a legitimate one through the exploration of fiction let's say.

SABAPATHY: Since October, several online pornographic novels and the websites that host them have been investigated. Eight sites have been shut down for providing porn.

Prof Li says while filters should be put into pornographic sites to bar young children access, adults should not be barred

LI: My view on this problem is I think adults should have the right to read and look at pornography, all kind of material.

SABAPATHY: Colin Jacobs says given the technology internet censorhip is not going to work.

JACOBS: The way the internet is built it is very easy to move information around and to evade whatever mechanism is put into to place to block that. You can see that all around the world. On the other hand not only is China's censorship system is not only extremely sophisticated and well resourced, certainly a clear leader in the world but there is an underlying criminal threat, what we call a chilling effect, so that people will censor themselves and that is probabaly more effective than all of the technological mechanisms in place.That doesn't mean people won't find a way to swap these things. One has to wonder why so many resources are being spent on this. This is not going to be an issue that is comparable to democracy discussions, you know according to the Chinese government.

SABAPATHY: Countries vary on internet pornography laws. Some heavily restrict access, while others like China maintain an outright ban. The US has no restrictions at all in keeping with its constitutional right to free speech and expression.

Colin Jacobs admits that in an arena like the internet where all human ideas mingle, many are not suitable for children. But he says instead of re-engineering the internet by putting in filters and bans, supervision and education of the young is important.

JACOBS: Especially as children get older we are going to have to accept that they will be able to seek out and find information that we think are undesirable, it could be pornography or it could be hate speech or whatever. And so the answer is going to have to be make sure that the children are educated properly so that they have the countervailing point of view so that they have the positive influences.

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