China’s Google Block Sparks Media Group’s Protest

China is blocking one of Google’s more popular sites, the company confirmed Tuesday.

Debbie Frost, a Google spokesperson, told that the company has been fielding reports of outages of the main Google News site from the region for a couple of days.

The search engine also said its Google News China, Spain and other national versions of the site have been inaccessible from China. In a statement, Google said it’s aware of the problem and working to “understand and resolve the issue.”

Spokespeople at the Chinese embassies in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco were not immediately available for comment.

Blocking certain sites in China is easily done for Internet service providers as flipping a light switch. As much as 80 percent of the country’s Internet traffic flows through ChinaNet, a subsidiary of China Telecom.

Even though it is still in beta mode, Google News is one of the 20 most visited news sites in the world, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. The site relays content from more than 4,500 news sites.

Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog group, reported that Google News has been blocked for about 10 days. The organization also accused Google of pandering to Chinese interests and filtering its Chinese-language site.

“China is censuring Google News to force Internet users to use the Chinese version of the site which has been purged of the most critical news reports,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. “By agreeing to launch a news service that excludes publications disliked by the government, Google has let itself be used by Beijing.”

Frost declined comment on the accusations. In an official company blog dated September 27, Google said it remains the only major search engine that does not censor any Web pages. However, the company acknowledges that some search results are sensitive for political or other reasons are inaccessible within China. “There is nothing Google can do about this,” the company said.

The launch of Google News China caused a storm of controversy, specifically regarding which news sources would be included.

Google said links to stories published by blocked news sources would not work for users inside China. If they clicked on a headline from a blocked source, they would get an error page. The company said it could be possible that there would be some small user value to just seeing the headlines. However, simply showing these headlines would likely result in Google News being blocked altogether in China.

“We also considered the amount of information that would be omitted,” Google said in its blog. “In this case it is less than two percent of Chinese news sources. On balance we believe that having a service with links that work and omits a fractional number is better than having a service that is not available at all. It was a difficult tradeoff for us to make, but the one we felt ultimately serves the best interests of our users located in China.”

Web site censorship is not a new issue for China. Computer users are generally accustomed to being blocked from certain American media sites and religious and pornographic material. However, there has been a recent crackdown by government officials who are not keen on their citizens having unlimited access.

The Chinese government shut 1,600 Internet cafes between February and August of this year, according to China Radio
International. The government also levied fines totaling more than $12 million for violations including giving minors access to violent games and adult content.

According to the report, the Chinese Ministry of Culture has been inspecting the Internet cafes, many of which are small, unlicensed, entrepreneurial businesses. Of 1.8 million such operations inspected, 18,000 more were ordered to halt operations until they cleared up offending practices.

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