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China Fires Warning Shot Across Sina’s Bow Over Porn

China Fires Warning Shot Across Sina’s Bow Over Porn

CHINA—A Chinese government agency is threatening online giant Sina Corp with sanctions that include stripping it of some of its online publication licenses. The move is seen as both a symbolic move and a warning to publishers of online content targeting Chinese citizens that the country's leaders are serious about scrubbing the web of porn and other subversive content.

"According to a statement released on Thursday by the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications," reported Xinhua, "20 articles and four videos posted on Sina.com were confirmed to have contained lewd and pornographic content following 'a huge amount' of public tip-offs.

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"As of result," it added, "the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television decided to revoke the company's two crucial licenses on Internet publication and audio and video dissemination and impose 'a large number of fines.'"

In addition to the fines and revocations, the statement also indicated that individuals suspected of having committed crimes related to the posting of the articles and videos "have been transferred to police organs for further investigation."

However, it also appears that the threat of sanctions may for the time being just be threats. "While the website, including its book and video sections where the questionable contents were found, is still accessible as of press time, [government official] Zhou revealed that some of the website's operations might be disabled if the punishment takes effect."

He also said that the amount of any fines levied would be determined only after the company was given time to appeal the underlying decision to punish the company.

But according to Doug Young, a professor at the Fudan University Journalism School, "It's almost a symbolic move, they're targeting Sina, which is a big name, because they know everyone will write headlines about it, but it won't have an impact on the company's revenues or profits."

Tell that to Sina. Having previously been accused of allowing "online publications with banned contents," the company has been working over the last year to scrub its web properties, including sina.net and the hugely popular social network Sina Weibo, of works containing content deemed inappropriate by government censors.

According to Xinhua, "Earlier this month, a statement from Sina on its Weibo account said its reading section was offline as the company was checking 'works containing inappropriate content,' but apparently its clean-up efforts were not successful."

Considering the leverage the government has over its properties, and despite the supposed symbolism of the latest threats, it comes as no surprise that Sina is taking the government seriously by reacting with profuse apologies and promises to clean up its act.

"Sina posted a circular later on Thursday 'offering the most sincere apology to all netizens and the public,'" reported Xinhua. "The company admitted that the website was indeed slack in supervising its content, and it felt 'regretful and guilty' for not fulfilling its social responsibility."

It also agreed to "obey the punishment without passing the buck."

The government, which vowed to continue its "persistent crackdown on online pornography," also made quite clear that it expects the country's other internet service providers to exhibit a similar level of contrition as Sini, and has even warned "against similar error, telling them to set up a comprehensive online info management system and check themselves for banned content."

Of course, whether the ISPs abide by those instructions or not, the government and its army of vigilant citizens will be watching over their shoulders—maybe like these folks!






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Tom Hymes

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