A number of major English-language news sites appear to have been left inaccessible in China following the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, with The Age and News.com.au being the latest Australian media outlets to fall victim to Beijing’s Great Firewall.
- It is unclear whether the latest ban on the media outlets will be permanent
- Some Western outlets, including The Australian and SMH, are still accessible in China
- China’s robot censors automatically block all content alluding to the June 4 massacre
The ABC’s website — which abruptly disappeared on August 22 last year for allegedly breaching China’s internet rules — also remained inaccessible.
Major international media outlets including The Guardian and The Washington Post were also found to have been blocked over the weekend, according to censorship monitor GreatFire.org.
During the politically sensitive period, China’s censorship apparatus usually works in overdrive to remove any reference to the 1989 pro-democracy movement, but coverage of the high-profile 30th anniversary seems to have come under harsher scrutiny.
Thirty years after the Government’s bloody crackdown on students, China’s robot censors continued to automatically filter all content alluding to dates, images and names associated with the protests on the internet and social media.
Other media outlets censored in recent days included the Huffington Post, NBC News, Toronto Star, and Japanese outlet Asahi Shinbum, according to GreatFire.com’s Twitter post.
They join already-banned outlets including Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that have reportedly been blocked for years and can now only be accessed using virtual private networking (VPNs).
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia was also reportedly banned for several weeks ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary.
It was unclear whether the latest ban on the media outlets would be permanent — the ABC’s website has been blocked for almost a year after disappearing in the same way — or why particular news sites were targeted over others.
For example, while the ABC could not connect to The Age and News.com.au on the Chinese internet, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian still appeared to be accessible at the time of writing.
It was also unclear exactly when the two Australian websites were blocked, but Shenzhen-based Chris Edwards, the web editor at the Southern University of Science and Technology, tweeted that News.com.au appeared to have been blocked on May 21.
Censorship ‘often appears to be ad-hoc’
Both The Guardian and The Washington Post published articles over the weekend about their online platforms being blocked amid a crackdown coinciding with the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The Guardian reported that the censorship “often appears to be ad-hoc” with its website apparently going offline for Chinese users after the June 4 massacre “which was marked by extensive coverage on the Guardian’s website and its print edition”.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post report said, “China’s internet censors rarely, if ever, communicate their reasoning for blocking specific sites”.
When the ABC website was censored last August, China’s cyber security regulator confirmed it was for breaching the country’s internet rules and regulations, but declined to say how.
The ban happened a day after the Australian Government ruled it would block two Chinese telecommunications companies — including tech giant Huawei — from participating in the roll-out of the 5G infrastructure network.
But official sources in China’s Government said it was unlikely the Huawei decision prompted the censoring of the website.
After repeated requests for clarification, an official from the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission dictated a statement to the ABC, insisting that China’s “internet is fully open”.
“However, state cyber sovereignty rights shall be maintained towards some overseas websites violating China’s laws and regulations, spreading rumours, pornographic information, gambling, violent terrorism and some other illegal harmful information which will endanger state security and damage national pride,” it said.
The ABC approached China’s Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission again for a response to the latest crackdown on the international media outlets, but they did not respond by publication time.
The Age and The Guardian were also approached for comment.