For the second time in less than a week The New York Times’ account on the Chinese social-networking site Sina Weibo has been deactivated. Users wanting to interact with the NYT via the site are greeted with a “user does not exist” message. Techcrunch also reports that other Chinese social networking accounts bearing the NYTimes’ name have also been blocked, though the paper has yet to confirm that these are authentic.
As previously reported by the Editors Weblog last Thursday, The New York Times’ Sina Weibo account was suspended within hours of its launch, only to be reactivated the very same day. In the time before the account was reinstated, speculation was rife that the Times's efforts to expand into the Chinese market would be fraught with difficulty. This time the gravity of the matter appears to have escalated, as the Sina Weibo account has seemingly been deleted, not suspended as it was before.
The fact that these measures have now been taken against the NYT twice in the space of six days can only increase concerns that authorities in China are unwilling to allow the publication to interact freely with its Chinese readers. Details about the circumstances surrounding the deactivation are scarce, though it is likely that the NYTimes posted or linked to material that either Sina Weibo’s administrators or local authorities deemed controversial.
As things stand, the paper’s Chinese website, http://cn.nytimes.com, is still active, but that’s not to say that it won’t fall victim to censorship in the future, particularly when we remember the NYT’s refusal to tailor the news site’s content “to the demands of the Chinese government. “
It’s yet another blow to press freedom in China, where YouTube and Twitter are blocked by the "Great Firewall of China" and Internet monitor Great Fire reports that only 25 percent of the population are able to access Bloomberg.com. Only this week The Wall Street Journal reported that press freedom in Hong Kong has been damaged to such an extent that there are fears journalists in the region are practicing self-censorship. Although Hong Kong has a political and legal system that is independent of mainland China, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association of the 633 journalists who answered, “79% believed that self-censorship has risen since 2005, and 36% said that they personally or their supervisors practice self-censorship, mostly by downplaying reports that might displease the central government, their advertisers or company owners.”