September 26, 2008

Chinese Internet Firms Reportedly Censored Content for Dairy Firms

Text of report by Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post website on 24 September

["Portals Scrutinized Over 'Favours' for Dairy Firms"]

The ethics of major internet content providers on the mainland are being closely scrutinised after they reportedly took money to censor content in the interests of dairy firms.

The Southern Metropolis News [Nanfang Dushi Bao] reported yesterday that Sina and Sohu, two of the country's major web portals, agreed to cooperate with Sanlu Group, the firm at the centre of the milk powder scandal.

Quoting unidentified sources, the paper said the two companies had promised "not to run any negative reports about Sanlu this year unless they involve circulars from state-authorised agencies".

Citing a leaked document, mainland media had earlier reported that Baidu, the biggest Chinese-language search engine, was approached by Sanlu through a public relations company to help the scandal-stricken firm manage a deepening crisis for 3m yuan (HK3.43m dollars).

Melamine-tainted milk powder has been blamed for killing at least four babies and leaving more than 52,000 ill. The perception of internet content providers allegedly colluding with unscrupulous companies has triggered public outcry over their lack of social responsibility in a time of national crisis.

Others have called the firms online mafia who collect money in the same way that gangs charge protection fees.

Baidu admitted last week that it had been approached by Sanlu, but denied it had done anything untoward for the firm.

However, other internet portals and search engines did not respond to the allegations, a silence that speaks volumes about an open secret among internet content companies that allegedly create publicity for their clients for money.

Online public relations specialist Chen Mo said 99 per cent of online companies, including internet portals and search engines, offered major clients some protection in the form of technical manipulation.

Originally published by South China Morning Post website, Hong Kong, in English 24 Sep 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.