At the time of writing this piece, the number of hits my blog has received is not 100 yet. I would prefer a low (even lower) readership to ending up behind bars. Bloggers in China have been directed to provide their full details to the government by the 30th of June. There is a choice, though. They can face criminal charges if they don’t choose route #1. Policing on the net? Flogging for blogging? Restriction of basic rights? Freedom of expression at peril?
We in India must accept that China is some sort of a phenomenon we can only dream of emulating. One of the reasons for this is that there is so much indecision in our country, especially the ruling classes. Though each policy decision is debated till death, nothing concrete happens. The worst part is that such inaction is considered a virtue – that the “democratic machinery” in India is still vibrant!
One of the things about policing private views, especially the deviant ones, is that the Government has one trouble less. No Tehelka, no hidden cameras, nothing… print this or we print your death notice. The one thing leaders like Adolf Hitler, Lee Kuan Yew, most Russian Presidents and Chinese Chairmen have in common is their ideas on the role of the fourth estate.
Even after the Internet revolution, China has maintained a strong control on what content providers publish and what the Chinese get to see. This is not uncommon; such restrictions exist in many countries. Some countries block just a few sites, while some others filter out a whole array of sites. The OpenNet Initiative, an inter-university partnership that monitors online surveillance, reveals that China operates the most extensive, technologically sophisticated, and broad-reaching system of Internet filtering in the world. Further, this filtering regime operates at various levels and is supported by a complex set of laws, procedures and regulations. Interestingly, the BBC is blocked in China!
Given such levels of filtering, China has sound reasons to be alarmed by the advent of blogging. The internet provides some kind of anonymity, and people are known to be ten times more foolhardy when their identity is not revealed. It would be foolish to assume that the 700,000 Chinese bloggers are all that way, but it takes just one spark to ignite a revolution – and though it is a communist republic, China is in no mood for a people’s revolution.
Countries around the world censor what they think is not appropriate for their people. The ONI has an interesting article about how even India ordered ISPs not to connect to a website which promoted anti-Islamic sentiments. I consider it perfectly sound. A similar argument can be applied to the Chinese case, except that it is probably overdone by a few steps.
Taken in the general scheme of things, the latest move by the Chinese authorities doesn’t come as a surprise. It is not as bad either. Though it places bars on self-expression, it is healthy insofar as it can regulate existing content and curtail misadventure. However, the only ones who need to fear such a move are the ones who are contemplating a reckless foray into blogosphere. Good luck to all our friends in China!
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