Bloggers of the world united in a common "say what?" last week when a Chinese official at a UN-sponsored conference on Internet governance proudly proclaimed that in his country the Internet was so free that governance was not an issue.
His comments were faithfully recorded by Internet journal C-Net:
…There are millions of Chinese that have no access to the Internet. We are here because we would like to promote openness. But we have not really raised the issue of how we could participate more fully and how we could have better access to the Internet…
In China, we don’t have software blocking Internet sites. Sometimes we have trouble accessing them. But that’s a different problem. I know that some colleagues listen to the BBC in their offices from the Webcast. And I’ve heard people say that the BBC is not available in China or that it’s blocked. I’m sure I don’t know why people say this kind of thing. We do not have restrictions at all.
Of course not.
The people at Harvard who found more than 19,000 sites inaccessible in China were probably just working with outdated machines. And this editor, who could not access the BBC for years (and occasionally Google as well) was probably also just mistyping the Internet addresses.
The whole hoopla over Internet blocking in China is probably a gimmick by providers of proxy servers to boost sales.
The poor official, apparently surprised at the suggestion of the famed Great Chinese Firewall, was asked to elaborate on his answer: "How can I elaborate on it if we don’t have any restrictions? Some people say that there are journalists in China that have been arrested. We have hundreds of journalists in China, and some of them have legal problems. It has nothing to do with freedom of expression."
Sure. The Chinese problem of mafia-style gangs of reporters terrorizing the countryside is a well-documented problem. The UN had better set up another committee to investigate and prevent it from spreading to neighboring nations. After all, as everybody knows, pens are mighty dangerous little artifacts.