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China’s End-to End Censoring

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New Leaders Forum

China’s End-to End Censoring

China’s media crackdown is frequently discussed. But it goes deeper than censoring what newspapers report.

Several weeks ago, the hugely popular Chinese TV show “Super Girl” was removed from the airwaves. This was largely due to the Western style of voting for the show’s contestants – with a viewership of 400 million, it was regarded by many Chinese government officials as profane, unhealthy and subversive.

But this was also merely the latest example in a string of cases in which China has attempted to censor its various and growing media outlets. Chinese authorities have attempted to stamp out any hint of democratic tendencies or signs of discontent, including on traditional media such as radio, TV and newspapers, as well as newer media platforms on the internet and social media sites.

Yet Chinese censors are also attempting to reach into the inner workings of the technology and companies that create and deploy content. This was underscored in a recent and unusual seminar in Beijing that involved internet service providers, along with technology, telecommunications and hardware companies that provide the physical backbone of modern media.

The seminar gave Internet technology providers and hardware manufacturers the opportunity to outline how they will strengthen self-supervision, self-restraint and self-discipline. The idea was to “assist” enterprises in meeting their legal duties, social responsibilities and moral obligations, particularly by emphasizing the importance of verifying internet rumors, tackling fraud and cracking down on the dissemination of “harmful” information. The official Xinhua news agency quoted Wang Chen, head of the State Council Information Office, as saying that the Communist Party exhorted the attendees to take the lead in developing a “healthy Internet culture” as decreed by Chinese law.

From online to offline, from traditional media to social media, it’s clear that despite ongoing media marketization and professionalization, the entire industry still has no choice but to comply with the Communist Party’s propaganda guidelines and censorship demands if they wish to survive. With Chinese authorities now seeking to create a new level of control over the mechanics of what powers media, censorship could reach into the DNA of distribution methods.

This multi-dimensional approach to media control is clearly aimed at keeping the public’s access to information under control without stoking popular unrest. Essentially, the idea is that consumers of media don’t know that information has been filtered.

Will China be able to successfully censor society the whole way along the media supply chain, from the software users utilize to those who create and distribute content? If the authorities are successful, internet users might not even realize what they’re missing out on.

Yang Yi is a resident fellow at CSIS Pacific Forum.