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Jun 8, 2009

When business and free speech collide

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on China's recent mandate requiring all new computers sold in the country to contain filters restricting citizens from viewing pornography and other online content it deems harmful.
China has long been notorious for its online censorship, using it to quash movements it opposes (like the freedom of Tibet) and obscure the darker parts of its history (like the Tienanmen Square massacre).
The New York Times wrote an article mentioning the impact this regulation will have on American computer companies including Dell, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard. While the story explains that companies are still examining the regulation, the anonymous industry executives it quotes seem more concerned with how it will set back production than how it will curtail the liberties of others. Says one executive on the regulation:
“The wording may be intentionally vague but the message is clear: we have no choice in the matter,”
This seems to be a popular view of many technology companies working in China. Yahoo helped Chinese Internet police arrest a dissident Internet journalist in 2007 and Google has helped China censor its searches for years now.
While business journalists have examined the moral implications of these companies' business decisions, it still feels that many are pulling punches. Cooperation with China's censorship flies directly in the face of many of these companies' purported goals and self-sculpted images. Journalists shouldn't hesitate to pounce on that hypocrisy.
As a whole, business journalists should call businesses on it when their products do harm to those they're supposed to serve. It not only helps the journalist and their readership, but the companies in bettering themselves.
Business journalism should never forget to emphasize what companies sometimes forget; in the end, there is always a choice.
View the article here.

What do you think about the current accountability of companies aiding in China's censorship? Comment and let us know.

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