(Adds Google response and Chinese censorship critic's
By Chris Buckley
BEIJING Jan 5 China has launched a crackdown
on websites as the country enters a politically sensitive year,
with officials accusing search engines including Baidu (BIDU.O)
and Google (GOOG.O) of spreading pornography and vulgarity.
A report on an official news website (www.china.com.cn)
said repeated violators and those that had a "malign influence"
might be exposed, punished or shut down.
China's Ministry of Public Security and six other
government agencies announced the campaign at a meeting on
Monday, state television reported, showing officials hauling
digital equipment away from one unidentified office.
The meeting "decided to launch a nationwide campaign to
clean up a vulgar current on the Internet and named and exposed
a large number of violating public morality and harming the
physical and mental health of youth and young people," the
The 19 Internet operators and websites named at the meeting
had failed to swiftly purge "vulgar" content and ignored
warnings from censors, the television report said.
Baidu dominates the Chinese web search market with about
two-thirds of the audience. Google Inc, the global market
leader, is a distant number two in China.
Cui Jin, a Google public relations officer in Beijing, said
she had no comment on the report, but added the company abided
"If they (users) find content that is contrary to Chinese
law, they can report it to Google. And if we find it's truly
illegal, we'll deal with it according to the law," said Cui.
Sun Yao, Baidu's PR representative declined to comment when
contacted by Reuters, saying the company was preparing a public
comment. Sina.com (SINA.O) was also one of those named and also
had no public response.
China's ruling Communist Party is wary of threats to its
grip on information and has conducted numerous censorship
efforts targeting pornography, political criticism and web
scams. But officials flagged tougher steps this time.
The campaign coincides with Communist Party efforts to
stifle dissent and protest as the economy slows and China
enters a year of sensitive anniversaries, especially the 20th
year since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in
"Some websites have exploited loopholes in laws and
regulations," said Cai Mingzhao, a deputy chief of the State
Council Information Office, who chaired the meeting, according
to the report on the official website www.china.com.cn.
"They have used all kinds of ways to distribute content
that is low-class, crude and even vulgar, gravely damaging
mores on the Internet."
The Information Office is the government face of the
Communist Party's propaganda arm.
Cai told officials to "fully grasp the gravity and threat
of the vulgar current infesting the Internet" and said
law-breakers faced "stern punishment".
Despite China's many rings of censorship, websites and
especially blogs have become sometimes racy magnets for the
country's nearly 300 million registered Internet users, many in
A list of the 19 named firms, including Baidu and Google,
issued by the state-sponsored China Internet Illegal
Information Reporting Centre (net.china.cn), said they failed
to heed complaints about lude pictures and links to pornography
The official China Daily reported last month that Shanghai
police detained a local woman who became an online sensation
after posting a video of herself having sex.
Wang Junxiu, a Chinese pioneer of blogging platforms and a
critic of censorship, said the crackdown may be more about
taming online opinion than stamping out pornography.
"I'd guess that this is in response to all the sensitive
dates in 2009. They want to tighten up," Wang told Reuters.
"This is about more than pornography. We've had crackdowns
on pornography since the start and they've never worked, so
there must be more than that ... It's a warning."
Wang was one of the signatories of the "Charter 08"
petition for democratic reform that has recently alarmed
The Financial Times reported on Monday that the Chinese
government is arming censors with more advanced filtering
software to catch banned content.
(Additional reporting by Michael Wei; Editing by Ken Wills
and Dean Yates)