Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Red Google

Lately I've been getting a bunch of emails from outraged right wingers who aren't happy with the degree of attention paid to their latest pet cause - Google's establishment of a search engine which to some degree caves in to the Chinese governments demands for censorship. Certainly this sounds fairly bad in principle, though whether in practice "china with no google" or "china with censored google" is a better thing I have no idea.

But I have no desire to defend Google; I just have no idea what the controversy is. Every company which does business in a "bad country" plays by their rules. In lots of cases their rules include a lot worse things than simply censoring search engines. You know, general labor abuses and stuff.

But aside from that, what about your hero, Rupert Murdoch?

MURDOCH THE APOLOGIST FOR DICTATORSHIPS: Time Magazine reported that while Murdoch is supposedly "a devout anti-Soviet and anti-communist" he "became bewitched by China in the early '90s." In an effort to persuade Chinese dictators that he would never challenge their behavior, Murdoch "threw the BBC off Star TV" (his satellite network operating in China) after BBC aired reports about Chinese human rights violations. Murdoch argued the BBC "was gratuitously attacking the regime, playing film of the massacre in Tiananmen Square over and over again." In 1998 Chinese President Jiang Zemin praised Murdoch for the "objective" way in which his papers and television covered China. [Source: Time Magazine, 10/25/99]

MURDOCH THE PROPAGANDIST FOR DICTATORS: While Murdoch justifies his global media empire as a threat to "totalitarian regimes everywhere," according to Time Magazine, Murdoch actually pays the salary of a top TV consultant working to improve the Chinese government's communist state-run television CCTV. As Time notes, "nowadays, News Corp. and CCTV International are partners of sorts," exchanging agreements to air each other's content, even though CCTV is "a key propaganda arm of the Communist Party." [Source: Time Magazine, 7/6/04]

MURDOCH THE ENABLER OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATORS: According to the LA Times, Murdoch had his son James, now in charge of News Corp.'s China initiative, attack the Falun Gong, the spiritual movement banned by the Chinese government after 10,000 of its followers protested in Tiananmen Square. With Rupert in attendance, James Murdoch called the movement a "dangerous" and "apocalyptic cult" and lambasted the Western press for its negative portrayal of China's awful human rights record. Murdoch "startled even China's supporters with his zealous defense of that government's harsh crackdown on Falun Gong and criticism of Hong Kong democracy supporters." Murdoch also "said Hong Kong democracy advocates should accept the reality of life under a strong-willed 'absolutist' government." It "appeared to some to be a blatant effort to curry favor" with the China's repressive government. [LA Times, 3/23/01]

Again, I'm not making a two wrongs a right argument. I don't like what Google is doing in China. I don't like like what lots of companies are doing in lots of countries. And, I'm not just making an apples-and-oranges comparison here. Whatever basic sin Google is accused of - censorship on behalf of the Chinese government - is something Murdoch has been doing for years.

Murdoch, a devout anti-Soviet and anti-communist, became bewitched by China in the early '90s. The Chinese leadership, while liberalizing in terms of economics, still attempted to control information; satellite broadcasting seemed an obvious threat to its ideological stranglehold.

To try and persuade the Chinese he was not a danger, Murdoch threw the BBC off Star. He argued that it was gratuitously attacking the regime, playing film of the massacre in Tiananmen Square over and over again. He also pointed out that since the BBC broadcasts only in English, almost no Chinese could understand it. In 1998 he ordered his British publishing firm, HarperCollins, to drop the memoirs of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong and another fierce critic of Beijing. The reward came last December when Chinese President Jiang Zemin praised Murdoch for the "objective" way in which his papers and television covered China.

When I put it to him that he was betraying his anti-communist values to ingratiate himself with Beijing, he said: "I don't think there are many communists left in China. There's a one-party state and there's a communist economy, which they are desperately trying to get out of and change. The real story there is an economic story, tied to the democratic story." He argues that Western entertainment, even without Western news, will help further dilute the regime.