The debate in Chinese media and on the Web over a proposed identification (“real-name”) system for Weblogs in China continues two weeks after a national newspaper revealed that information industry officials had tasked a “Weblog research group” with looking into the system’s creation.
Information officials have said the system, which would require all bloggers in China to register with their real names, is needed to address such problems as online slander, incivility and “rights violations” [such as copyright]. Many journalists, academics and Web users have attacked the proposed system, saying it violates privacy and free expression (言论自由).
Today, on All Hallows Eve, the official newspaper of China’s Central Propaganda Department, Guangming Daily, asked on its legal page which was spookier: controls on expression or runaway free speech? Other voices in the media asked for more balance between free expression and control, and some advocated more popular participation in deciding about the system.
The Guangming Daily news piece, which reads like an propaganda editorial, follows:
October 31, 2006, PG 9
Those Who Fear the “Registration System” Lack Confidence in their Own Speech
Yang Junzuo, chairman of the Executive Committee on Industry Self-Discipline at the Internet Society of China said recently that the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) had charged the “Weblog research group” of the Internet Society of China’s Executive Committee on Policies and Resources to conduct research on a registration system for Weblogs, with the results to be handed up to MII for a decision. When this news came out, the “Weblog research group” met immediate opposition from many Web users. The reason for this was the belief that a registration system for Weblogs would intrude on free expression and violate the privacy rights of Web users.
Is [the idea of] a registration system really all that scary? And who is it who fears the registration system? An editorial on Xinhuanet.com [recently] said that the writings of the vast majority of bloggers had expanded the scope of free expression, but slander, rights violations and incivility (“cursing”), etcetera, had come along with this. Free expression does not imply absolute freedom. The bottom line in free expression is that one does not do harm to another’s legal rights. Therefore, those who really fear the identification system are those who have little confidence in [the legality or morality of] their own speech. It is those who no faith in the law and morality!
Southern Metropolis Daily today offered the opinions of a local Web forum operator in Guangdong concerning the proposed identification system. The gist is that, yes, there are problems, but, no, the registration system will not help. The editorial accompanies a related news piece on controversies on an interior design industry forum about dishonest dealings between participants:
Southern Metropolis Daily
October 31, 2006, A37
Free Expression and Internet Order Should be Balanced
Mr. Zheng of Wanglong Computer Co Ltd. in Zhongshan City says that the Wanglong forum [offering interaction and services between various interior design firms in China] has many users on the site registered with IDs as interior design companies or interior design groups. But the forum can seldom be evenly managed because while there are many postings by interior design firms offering reliable, high-quality [services] that are interesting to industry people [there are others that are not reliable]. There have been cases of controversy between industry users that have gone to the extreme.
Mr. Zheng’s view is that a Web registration system cannot resolve these problems because there are problems of boundaries in Web management (网站管理存在界定难). If a registration system is in place this might take care of companies acting with disregard for regulations, but in the case of personally registered IDs it’s difficult to determine whether a particular person is the source of a posting. “A registration system isn’t all-powerful, people can always find a way to get around it”.
Web forums need to find a balance between free expression and orderly posting, and Mr. Zheng believes Web users themselves should play the principal role. Everyone can raise the value of their IDs like Intel stock [by ensuring good performance and building trust], but they must play by the game rules. Industry users [of Wanglong] can determine for themselves whether someone is dealing fair or not. Right now the forum is gathering opinions from users hoping to benefit from the best ideas. “But many of these opinions come from interior design companies and workers, so they can’t be said to totally represent Web users in general”. He says the process [of improving their management] is underway and is not yet a done deal.
In a “Lawyer’s Viewpoint” column on the same page as the above editorial, a reporter interviews Luo Jiangmin, a lawyer at Nanri Law Firm about the Web registration system. Luo argues that Websites can themselves establish ground rules users can choose to abide by as a condition of using the site or certain services:
[Luo believes that] without legal limitations Websites can define their own standards, including identity registration or prohibiting advertisements … If the users accept the terms themselves, there is an agreement in force between the two parties which both must respect. The Web operator can use these standards to handle advertisements or postings. But Luo also says that because they place limitations on Web users’ [right to] free expression such systems should not be used universally.
A number of recent cases have brought the question of free expression and new media to the fore. Late last week national officials admitted to the wrongful detention in Chongqing of a local government worker, Qin Zhongfei (秦中飞), for writing and transmitting by mobile phone a poem satirizing local leaders in the municipality’s Pengshui County. While Qin has been released and given government compensation, some media have expressed displeasure that action was not taken against those responsible at the local level.
An editorial appearing last Friday in China Youth Daily and rerun by a number of papers, including People’s Daily spinoff Jinghua Times, said:
First of all, the national government shouldn’t pull out 2,125 yuan, just like that, and offer it as compensation. Of course this isn’t a whole lot of money, and for an individual to shell out that kind of money wouldn’t be a big deal. But who should pay still remains a question . . . At the very least someone needs to take responsibility for this, right? Speaking more forthrightly I hope to see officials in Pengshui County bravely standing up and taking responsibility. Of course if this case can spark reflection and change of the system in order to effectively protect personal freedom of expression, how much greater would that be.
Aside from this, now that Qin Zhongfei is not now suspected of libel, well perhaps the relevant government offices should look into the problems [Qin Zhongfei] addressed [in the SMS] and take action, offering an explanation to the people.
SEE also: Another Chinese Netizen Sent to Jail for Exercising Free Speech at ESWN.
[Posted by David Bandurski, October 31, 2006, 1:38pm]