China: Web Sites Apologize After Ponography Exposure Scandal

BEIJING, CHINA: Nineteen Chinese Web sites, including search engine rivals Google and Baidu, have posted online apologies Tuesday (6 Jan) after accusations from an Internet watchdog of being slow to delete porn and erotic materials or disable links to pornographic sites, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Zhou Xiaopeng, spokesman of Sina, a major Chinese portal at the epicenter of the scandal, said "the Website has realised the seriousness of the case and we felt it was necessary to write the letter to our users."

Other major portal Web sites including Sohu, Netease and Tencent, have made public apologies in statements on Tuesday, unanimously promising to step-up efforts to filter obscene contents.

The move came just two days after the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center blacklisted them for failure to block pornographic information.

Wang Qiang, an official with the Beijing Internet management office, the organisation responsible for punishing Internet law violations, said the move was a positive step toward holding Web sites' accountable for social responsibility.

Netizens have responded to the apology letter with mixed attitudes.

In an online forum of Sina, an anonymous mobile phone subscriber from China's southern Guangdong said the problem was "inevitable" as "advanced Internet techniques and uneven qualities of netizens made blocking obscene materials difficult."

"As long as the problem is found and corrected, the Web site is still one of my favorite," he wrote.

An anonymous netizen on cnbeta.com, which quoted Baidu's statement, said the apology letter that called for netizens to continue their support for the search engine seemed more like an advertisement than an apology.

Fan Li, a civil servant with southwest Chongqing Municipal Meteorological Bureau, said the apology was only "counsel after action." "I would rather believe that it is technically possible to block the materials. The Web sites just wouldn't do it because commercial interests were involved if there were more clicks and visits."

The distribution of pornographic and obscene publications, videos, articles for nonprofit use in the most severe cases could be punished with up to two years' jail term, according to China's Criminal Law.

But there are loopholes regarding the punishment for distributing "vulgar" materials, which is defined by government officials as "contents containing information that advocate bloodshed, violence, murder, slander and libel. Inexplicit or erotic sexual images, publications, animations, comics and videos could also be considered vulgar."

Wang Qiang said his office was working on punishment schemes and some small-scale Web sites were previously closed down for the distribution of inappropriate material.

China has the world's largest population of Internet users with more than 253 million as of June 2008. Young people comprise a large portion of Internet users.

Despite a cultural shift in Chinese attitudes toward sexuality in the past decades of economic growth, such topics are still considered inappropriate for public discussion. (Bernama)

MySinchew 2009.01.07