How China Censors Mass Media in Your World

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-03-15 Print this article Print
China Censorship

The Chinese government also has been accused of censoring at universities in 120 countries. The government's Ministry of Education created a "non-profit public educational organization" called the Confucius Institute, which has 1,100 local organizations within universities, colleges and secondary schools around the world. They fund various courses and activities, and provide teachers as well as educational materials.

The organization has even been accused of tearing whole pages out of handouts at the European Association for Chinese Studies at a meeting in Portugal.

The American Association of University Professors said that Confucius Institutes "threaten academic freedom" and urged U.S. colleges to "reconsider their partnerships with Chinese language and culture centers financed by the People's Republic of China."

By allowing the organizations, they wrote, "North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate."

Confucius Institutes have even been accused of industrial espionage, especially at Silicon Valley's Stanford University.

Confucius Institutes also are spreading fast in American elementary schools and high schools.

Confucius Institutes are just one instrument of censoring ideas and information worldwide. They use their control of Chinese borders to affect press coverage outside of China.

China maintains a "blacklist" that bans foreign critics from entering the country or that expels journalists from covering some Chinese events for foreign media outlets. Some other governments enforce China's blacklist.

About a year ago, two pro-Democracy advocates from Hong Kong were denied entry into Malaysia by Malaysian authorities because they were going to speak about the Tiananmen crackdown. American historians who have written about Tiananmen are routinely denied entry into China. And a reporter writing for a French magazine was expelled from China for reporting on Xinjiang and Tibet.

Another controversy may have shown intent by the Chinese government to block the assignment of domain names by a U.S.-based domain registry.

Late last year, the domain registry submitted a proposal to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to automatically censor new domain names based on the Chinese government list of banned words.

For example, the proposal would reject requests for domain names using words and phrases like "democracy," "human rights," and others, no matter where in the world the applicant resided. The company controls top-level domains ending in .xyz, .college, .rent, .theatre, .protection and .security.

After being slammed by the media, denied that they intended to actually implement their proposal.

One of the most disturbing tactics for censoring worldwide is China's so-called "Great Cannon"—the use of Distributed Denial of Service attacks to shut down sites the Chinese government doesn't like.

A security expert has persuasively demonstrated that the Chinese government is responsible for DDOS attacks against both the anti-censorship site Great Fire and the U.S.-based Git repository hosting service, GitHub.

In the case of GitHub, the site offers a wide range of open source projects and is heavily supported by companies like Google. A tiny minority of the projects on GitHub were objectionable to the Chinese government, but their "Great Cannon" temporarily censored content the entire site.

Critics fear the increasing use of the "Great Cannon" will shut down news sites when they report on events in China, or contain criticism of the Chinese leadership.

One of the most insidious forms of censorship is self-censorship—preemptively silencing speech and content assumed to be banned or a least objectionable to the Chinese government.

When Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked in September of 2014, and their internal documents leaked, we learned of widespread self-censorship of American movies on behalf of, but not ordered by, the Chinese government.

A recent example comes from the Adam Sandler movie, "Pixels," where Sony deleted a scene where the Great Wall of China is destroyed. However, scenes depicting the destruction of other World Heritage sites, such as the Taj Mahal, were allowed. The screenplay for the 2012 remake of the film "Red Dawn" depicted America being invaded by China, but Sony changed the invaders to North Koreans.

The Chinese film market is huge. And in order to be approved for Chinese distribution, American movie studios routinely and preemptively censor them to appease the Chinese Communist Party.

We know about Sony's self-censorship only because of the hack. We don't know how widespread self-censorship is among U.S. film and TV studios or for that matter among book publishers or other mass media producers.

The size of the Chinese market, combined with an expectation of bans on certain types of content, means that Hollywood and other content creators maintain a general bias in factor of the Chinese Communist Party censorship.

The big picture is that Chinese censorship is not just a problem for citizens of China. China censors worldwide and it affects what we see, read, hear and know.


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