[photopress:IT_News_You_Tube.jpg,full,alignright]Streaming videos from Chinese YouTube may, just may, see a severe decline in popularity.
The Chinese government has announced new rules that could block all but a few video sites from reaching Chinese viewers.
The regulations, posted to Web sites of China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the Ministry of Information Industry, require that effective January 31, all online video outlets must avoid politically or morally objectionable content (not an impossible request) and obtain a government-issued permit.
The thought it that while the statute could limit online video to state-controlled media sites and ban foreign-owned video-hosting sites like YouTube and MySpace, it may also go unenforced, serving more as a threat to coerce video-hosting sites to police themselves.
Ben Edelman, a professor at Harvard Business School and an Internet filtering researcher, said rather than banning sites like YouTube altogether, says, Beijing’s new rules may be ‘a shot across the bow.’
Ben Edelman is probably perfectly correct in saying the government lacks the technology to filter video as selectively as it filters text. That being so it may hope to scare sites into censoring the content that the government wants banned.
He asked, ‘Would the government actually block all video sites, save for registered sites, in one fell swoop? Maybe not. Their goals are just as well served by the threat.’
MySpace China, a Chinese-language version of the News Corp. social networking site, already practices some degree of self-censorship. The site has been criticized by bloggers for demanding that users report one another when they spot posts with objectionable political content.
Its terms of service prohibit members from discussions that would ‘leak state secrets or undermine the government,’ or ‘spread rumors and disturb the social order.’
MySpace China, however, hosts no video. Neither MySpace China nor its U.S.-based counterpart could be reached for comment.
It remains to be seen whether the original MySpace, one of the most popular U.S. video sites, would follow MySpace China’s self-censorship model to obey the Chinese government’s new rule.
Would YouTube, which is owned by Google, be willing to censor content to comply with tightened Chinese regulations? Probably.
YouTube spokesperson Ricardo Reyes, said, ‘We obey local laws wherever we have local sites.’ YouTube hosts a Hong Kong site, which would fall under Chinese law. But its terms of service do not contain the political prohibitions included in MySpace China’s terms of service.
John Palfrey, a Harvard Law professor and researcher at the Open Net Initiative, worries that video sites without government ties could be wiped out altogether in preparation for the public relations battles surrounding the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
He said, ‘This could be bad news for free speech and bad news for economic development. And it could make it very hard for Web 2.0 businesses to compete in China.’
In fact, no one outside of the Chinese government — least of all the affected sites themselves — knows to what degree the tightened regulations will be enforced or how complicated it will be for video sites to get government permits.
A statement from YouTube expresses, above all, bewilderment. ‘China’s new regulations for online video could be a cause for concern, depending on the interpretation. Like other companies, we are studying the new rules.’