Chinese Internet operators apologize for lewd content

BEIJING (Reuters) - Three Chinese Internet operators have apologized for failing to purge “vulgar” content following a government pledge this week to expose and shut down offending websites.

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer

China on Monday launched a renewed crackdown to stamp out vulgar current on the Internet, which analysts linked to a broader campaign to stifle dissent and protest as the economy slows in a year of politically sensitive anniversaries.

Officials named and shamed 19 Internet operators and websites, including search engines Google and Baidu, it said had flouted warnings about pornography and other content deemed inappropriate by state censors.

“We feel deeply guilty,” Baidu, China’s number one search engine, said in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday.

“We apologize to Internet users for any negative effects given to society.”, China’s number two online game operator, and SINA Corp also issued public apologies on their websites.

“As to our problems and any harm they could possibly have caused Internet users, SINA feels deeply sad and concerned,” the online media group said.

Google’s China office stopped short of offering an apology on its website, but promised to “work hard” with Internet users and society to build a healthy Internet culture.

"After we received notice from relevant government departments ... (we) cleaned up links to vulgar content that could have adverse effects on Internet users," it said (here).

Despite China’s all-pervasive censorship machine, pornography is widely available online to China’s nearly 300 million users, many in their teens.

China’s ruling Communist Party is wary of threats to its grip on information and has conducted numerous censorship efforts targeting porn, anti-government criticism and websites selling fake drugs.

Analysts have linked the campaign to broader efforts to stifle dissent ahead of sensitive political dates this year, especially the 20th anniversary year of the government’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square in 1989.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Macfie