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internet companies ‘need policy now’ on Asian censorship

April 2006

The head of the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia has called on internet companies to produce a common policy on how they should deal with demands for censorship of their web content from countries with repressive regimes.

Melissa Brown, executive director of ASrIA, has also challenged Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to say what requests they have had from the Chinese government on censorship and to outline what censorship measures they have imposed as a result. She said this would allow investors and customers to ‘assign blame in a more appropriate way’.

Calls are increasing for clear policies from internet companies on how they should react to censorship demands. Google and Yahoo have been severely criticized for allowing the Chinese versions of their search engines to be censored at the request of the Chinese authorities. Yahoo has also been attacked for releasing information that led to the imprisonment of  Chinese ‘cyber-dissidents’ Li Zhi  and Shi Tao in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Yahoo has replied that it was forced to do this under Chinese law.

In her call for action, Brown said internet companies have lacked foresight about ‘the awkward realities of doing business in China’. She said: ‘They are not the first and certainly won’t be the last group of international companies to suffer when their special compromises for market access in China are not well received by their global clientele. What is surprising is how slow they have been to look at the lessons learned by superficially more prosaic industries such as the apparel sector.’

Brown said that if internet companies start revealing more details on censorship issues now, they can talk more realistically about how to build a long-term business in China ‘that will respect both Chinese consumers and global norms’.




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