06/14/2005, 00.00
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Don't look for 'freedom' and 'democracy' on Microsoft's China-based internet portal

Banned words are blocked. Reporters Without Borders slams the authorities' desire to eliminate online press freedom.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Beginning on June 13, the search engine of Microsoft's new China-based internet portal will not look for words such as democracy, freedom and human rights. Other words that cannot be used on Microsoft's free online blog service—MSN Spaces—include 'Taiwan independence' and 'demonstration'.

Bloggers who enter such words or other politically charged or pornographic content are prompted with a message: "This item should not contain forbidden speech such as profanity. Please enter a different word for this item."

Officials at Microsoft's Beijing offices refused to comment.

Mainland internet sites are strongly urged to abide by a code of conduct and self-censor any information that could be viewed by the government as politically sensitive, pornographic or illegal.

Microsoft formed its portal joint venture with China's state-funded Shanghai Alliance Investment last month to launch the MSN China web portal.

Yahoo! and Google—the two most popular internet search engines—have already been criticised for co-operating with the Chinese government to censor the internet.

Recently, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had released a statement deploring "the irresponsible policies of United States internet firms Yahoo! and Google in bowing directly and indirectly to Chinese government demands for censorship".

RSF also slammed Cisco Systems for supplying the Chinese with on-line spying systems and Yahoo! for agreeing to change its portal and search-engine to facilitate censorship in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

Similarly, RSF urged the United States to enforce the principles of its Global Internet Freedom Act on its private sector's activities in "some of the world's most repressive regimes".

The Act aims to combat online censorship imposed by governments around the world.

The Chinese authorities issued new regulations in March of this year that require all China-based websites be formally registered with the government by the end of June or be shut down by the internet police. For RSF, this will enable those in power to control online news and information much more effectively."

The authorities want the complete control of internet on the grounds that it "has brought many problems, such as sex, violence, feudal superstitions and other harmful information that has seriously poisoned people's spirits." However, RSF has argued that China's real goal is to force people with dissenting opinions to shift websites overseas. Mainland Chinese users could thus be barred from accessing them because of government censorship filters.

"Those who continue to publish under their real names on sites hosted in China will either have to avoid political subjects or just relay the Communist party's propaganda," the group said.

This year, at least 54 people have been jailed in China for posting online essays or other content deemed to be subversive.

Commercial publishers and advertisers can be fined up to 1m yuan (US$ 120,000) for failing to register. But according to the authorities, 75 per cent of all sites have already registered.

In China there are almost 90 million internet users, the world's second largest online population after the US. (PB)

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