Friday, August 04, 2006

China: Professor Wins Suit Against Blog Hosting Company

From the Associated Press:
SHANGHAI, China (AP) - A Chinese journalism professor has won a lawsuit against a blog hosting site that refused to remove remarks criticizing him by one of its users, state media said Friday.

It was believed to be the first time that a person in China has sued a blog host for defamation. Winning shows “personal dignity outweighs freedom of speech,” the professor, Chen Tangfa, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The site, Blogcn.com, was ordered to pay Chen 1,000 yuan ($126) in damages and post a formal apology on its home page in a ruling handed down Wednesday by a court in the eastern city of Nanjing, Xinhua said.

Blogcn had argued it had no right to delete the comments from the blog, but a spokesman, Fang Huaifeng, was quoted by Xinhua on Friday as saying it would now review every complaint received and delete material deemed offensive.

The posted comments, apparently written by a student of Chen’s who remained anonymous, had criticized his teaching style and the materials used in his class.

Chen said he had an idea who the writer was, but hadn’t wanted to bring him or her before a court.

Chinese Internet users have taken to blogs, known here as “bo-ke,” with gusto, with about 16 million writing the freeform online journals of personal opinions, observations, pictures, music and links to other Web sites. Blogcn has accumulated close to 5 million users since it was established in late 2002, according to its official Web site.

Blogs are thriving despite strict rules on content enforced by a special Internet police force. China has pressured Internet firms such as Microsoft to close down popular Chinese blogs touching on sensitive topics such as press freedom.
We could wax indignant about this infringement on freedom of speech, but even in the U.S. blog content that defames or harasses individuals is not protected. The law is extremely complex, but there are all sorts of ways in which bloggers can potentially run afoul of the law.

Yet, as a practical matter, free speech reigns here.

The good news in the article concerns the explosion of blogs in China. The explosion of free expression has to eventually outrun the capacity of a repressive government to stop it.

Widespread blogging, in other words, is fundamentally incompatible with a repressive regime.

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