Friday 23 May 2003

Internet Censors in China Loosening Their Grip

This article originally appeared in Online Journalism Review on 23 May 2003.


A researcher tracking Internet censorship trends in China says government monitors are allowing more political commentary than they have in the past.

"Look at that! Look at that!" Gao Zheng says, tapping the glass screen on his monitor excitedly.

All I see is a string of Chinese characters, each one as incomprehensible to me as every other. I can tell it's a Web site, but that's about it.

"That lasted there over two hours," he says, falling back into his chair. "I can't believe it. Somebody's not paying attention."

Looking a little closer, I can see he's tapping at a threaded discussion forum. "I've got to print that one off," he says, pulling himself back to the keyboard.

A few minutes later, a refreshed screen reveals a different set of characters. The ephemeral pixel proof is gone. "That's really surprising," says Gao, putting the printout in a blue folder crammed full of similar screen shots. "Two hours and 20 minutes isn't quite a record for that kind of thing, but it's much longer than I expected."

As he closes his folder, another piece of the murky puzzle of online censorship in China falls into place.

Wednesday 5 February 2003

Belarus: Crossed Signals

I wrote this from Minsk for TIME magazine on 5 February 2003.


Minsk just can't seem to make up its mind. One minute, Belarus is pushing Russian media out of its territory; the next minute, it is declaring undying love for its bigger Slav brother, hoping to join Russia in a single political entity. Often criticised for human rights abuses and interference with free speech, the Belarusian authorities are now again under fire from a wide range of critics, including Russian Democratic Party Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, for closing three Russian radio stations at the start of the year. Minsk said it would replace the closed stations — Golos Rossii, Mayak and Yunost — with domestic programming.

The authorities have also moved to cut the coverage of the Russian TV channel RTR by 30% from 1 February, and they are further demanding that all radio and TV stations re-register before this summer, which many fear is a policy aimed at reducing the number of broadcasts from Russia. Again, the desire to promote national broadcasting was given as the reason, but many have their suspicions about the government's true intentions.

Those suspicions remain because, quite simply, Russian media matter in Minsk.