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China, the final frontier: censoring podcasts?



China, the final frontier: censoring podcasts?


Beijing – Years ago, when communications weren’t digitized, radio was the propaganda tool of choice for dissidents. Times change: Han Dongfang, a member of the post-Maoist “new left” and resident of Hong Kong, has started using MP3 files to spread his dissent against the People’s Republic of China.

A simple technological leap towards modernity? Not really: the diffusion of so-called podcasts, which contain audio data in compressed format, cannot be blocked by the IT structures that regulate the traffic of digital information in China.

Unlike a blog, which is completely textual and “anchored” to a specific Web address, the podcast can in fact be disseminated through P2P networks and reach a huge amount of people. Although the Chinese authorities are able to control and censor even the chats between users of Skype, which in China is managed independently by the Tom group, the contents of a podcast cannot be analyzed and stopped “on the fly”. Analyzing an audio file, as well as a voice conversation, is not easy.

Han, already jailed for protesting the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, is convinced that the filtering of real-time audio information is virtually impossible. In an interview with NewsWeek, the director of the Human Rights In China organization stated that “non-textual information spreads faster and can be exchanged on a word of mouth basis, especially in rural areas where people are poorly literate. “.

Whereas the popularity of the MP3 players it is practically total, given the cheapness of reproducers on the Chinese domestic market and the spread of mobile phones with multimedia functions, it is possible that podcasts will become the definitive weapon of independent Chinese information. The total number of mobile phone users, in fact, amounts to approximately 400 million users .

According to some local observers, the Chinese police forces are still working on a method able to hinder the diffusion of podcasts. Some experts, such as Howard Rheingold, are certain of the impossibility of this umpteenth “Digital Great Wall” equipped against multimedia productions from the Internet user base.

From a technical point of view, a certain degree of multimedia control it would only be possible by analyzing every single e-mail containing attachments, or every exchange of files between two instant messaging users. A solution that, according to Rheingold, “would paralyze the entire Chinese Internet”.

Despite the initiatives of Han Dongfang, the list of political activists banned from the web Chinese is increasingly dense: Beijing’s censorship systems shield over 100 million users from the influence of information considered “dangerous” and “destabilizing” for Chinese society. To realize this, just use tools such as World Wide Search, which allow you to view the degree of censorship through the use of the famous Google.

Tommaso Lombardi