After presenting my study on China's censorship of online news at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), I had a great talk with David Sutcliffe, the editor of the OII Policy of Internet Blog, and went through the following questions. The full conversation is published on the blog post titled Uncovering the patterns and practice of censorship in Chinese news sites.
- How much work has been done on censorship of online news in China? What are the methodological challenges and important questions associated with this line of enquiry?
- You found that party organs, ie news organizations tightly affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, published a considerable amount of deleted news. Was this surprising?
- How sensitive are citizens to the fact that some topics are actively avoided in the news media? And how easy is it for people to keep abreast of these topics (eg the “three Ts” of Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen) from other information sources?
- Is censorship of domestic news (such as food scares) more geared towards “avoiding panics and maintaining social order”, or just avoiding political embarrassment? For example, do you see censorship of environmental issues and (avoidable) disasters?
- You plotted a map to show the geographic distribution of news deletion: what does the pattern show?
- What do you think explains the much higher levels of censorship reported by others for social media than for news media? How does geographic distribution of deletion differ between the two?
- Can you tell if the censorship process mostly relies on searching for sensitive keywords, or on more semantic analysis of the actual content? ie can you (or the censors..) distinguish sensitive “opinions” as well as sensitive topics?
- It must be a cause of considerable anxiety for journalists and editors to have their material removed. Does censorship lead to sanctions? Or is the censorship more of an annoyance that must be negotiated?
- What do you think explains the lack of censorship in the overseas portal? (Could there be a certain value for the government in having some news items accessible to an external audience, but unavailable to the internal one?)