Technology Undermines Censorship in China

The Chinese characters for "Hong Kong".

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Source: The Daily Evergreen

Peter Herford examines the technological challenge being posed to censorship in China.

The Chinese government is facing a diminishing ability to control the technological environment they actually created, CBS veteran producer Peter Herford said.

Herford visited WSU for a talk as part of the Brown Bag Lunch series sponsored by the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and co-sponsored by the WSU Asia Program. Unlike the older generation of Chinese who think the media should be censored, young people are pushing for reform and open-ended information access. The generation gap could not be greater elsewhere than it is in China, he said. Herford said there are about 100 million bloggers and 600 to 700 million mobile phones in the country. “Anything that happens anywhere in China is on the internet within seconds,” he said. “It is impossible to keep a secret.” Herford said the issue of media censorship dates back to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis of 2002 that started in Guangzhou. “The Chinese approached that problem the way they approach many problems – suppress the news, don’t talk about it,” he said.

The Guangzhou government knew they were responsible, and did not want that kind of a “black mark” looming over their heads, Herford said. Because of pressure from the World Health Organization, strong message was spread that SARS was potentially a world problem, and China needed to open up and report cases to let the rest of the world know the scope of the issue and how the government planned to deal with it, he said. The Chinese central government decided to use the Internet as a tool to help educate its citizens, he said. Broadband Internet was then made available in the entire country. “Not everybody can afford a computer but as the economic levels rise, the computer penetration rises and the broadband is sitting there ready to be used,” Herford said. The Chinese took maximum advantage of this new freedom, but it backfired on the government because the more new developments that arose, the more complicated censoring became. Social media services like blogging, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have made this particularly difficult, he said. About 20 students and faculty joined Herford for his talk at noon on Monday in CADD 218.

“Chinese media has changed the world,” said Titus Lam, a junior communication major and foreign exchange student from Hong Kong. “Even though in Hong Kong we can use Facebook and YouTube, I have a sense of losing my freedom of speech.” Herford said the Chinese government has developed censoring software advanced enough to block individual stories on any news organization’s website. Because the government has to react quickly, controlling the flow of information is now much more efficient.

Senior communication major Lyndon Dacuan said he was intrigued by how easily information makes its way to the public in China, though Facebook and other social networking websites are blocked. “With so many people and such a rapidly growing culture, I found it very interesting that you can get away with a lot because it seems that the society itself is going faster than the government can keep up,” he said. Herford stressed the importance of information as power.

“If you are a single-party government that has never known how to deal with opposition, you suddenly find yourself faced with a population that is increasingly talking back to you,” he said. “Somewhere down the path, this system cannot be maintained.”

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2 comments on “Technology Undermines Censorship in China
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