April 2, 2008

'The Great Firewall' Lets Down its Guard

While China, confronted with violence in Tibet, was shutting down some parts of the Internet, it opened access to one long-unavailable site.

The BBC reported last week that, after years of being blocked by Chinese authorities, its English language news Web site was suddenly available to the Chinese public.

Under a policy that has been called the “Great Firewall of China,” the communist government routinely blocks foreign news sites and other sites that it deems objectionable.

China has never openly stated that it was interfering with access to the BBC, but the news site reported that it had been unavailable in China for years until recently.

The BBC’s Chinese-language site remained blocked in most of China when the English site reported the news.

But later in the week, a blogger for CNet reported that the Chinese-language BBC was at least partly available in the eastern city of Xi’an.

Once the English-language BBC.com became available, the site posted comments from readers in China.

Many of them were apparently from British expatriates living in China who were delighted to see the site available: “I can’t believe I’m reading this article!” read one.

Other comments were attributed to Chinese nationals who derided Western reporting on the Tibetan unrest as biased.

And still others were attributed to Chinese nationals who were angry at their government.

One such comment read: “If I were to hop over to Hong Kong, the connection to BBC works immediately like a breeze and it felt like I just got out of a prison. I am almost so used to the ‘imprisonment’ that I am somewhat surprised I can actually get BBC news now. Talk about basic human rights.”

On the same day that the BBC was reporting its triumph, another English language news site was reporting that it had been blocked.

The First Post reported that China had blocked its story on a Chinese Olympic badminton coach who had admitted to fixing matches at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Gently poking fun at the BBC, a First Post editorial said, “Allowing surfers free and unfettered access to stories about Britain’s declining economy, the extravagance of our expenses-happy politicians and our luxury car brand fire sales is one thing; the real test will come when the BBC dares question the ethics of Chinese badminton.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“BBC website ‘unblocked in China'”
BBC, March 25, 2008

“Readers from China react to BBC access”
BBC, March 25, 2008

“Great Firewall gives and takes away”
The First Post, March 27

“China to Chinese: you may now access the BBC”
Times Online, March 25, 2008

“In one city, even BBC’s Chinese site is now available”
CNet, March 29, 2008

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