Dodgy CCTV journalism and map clampdown


Leaking state secrets?

A story was published this morning on the China Economy website titled “Seven government departments rectify geographical information market: more than a thousand problem websites dealt with”.

The seven departments are the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, Ministry of Industry and Information, Ministry of State Security, General Administration of Press and Publications, State Secrets Bureau, General Staff Department of Surveying and the Mapping Bureau.

They investigated 41,670 websites, found problems with 3,686 of them, “rectified” more than 1,000 and shut down more than 200.

The CCTV program ‘Topics in Focus’ (焦点访谈), ever happy to attack Internet companies, especially Google, participated in the purge by airing a program last night showing how a Chinese blogger was “revealing state secrets” by writing annotations on Google Earth.

In the program segment titled ‘Beware of Internet maps revealing state secrets’ linked below, journalists appear to ask the blogger, identified as ‘Xiao Long’ about his online activities. Although they pixelize his face, they show his webpage, and it’s not hard to figure out that the blogger in question is none other than William Long of the Moon Blog, which Danwei has linked to many times in the past. His blog has a Google Earth section where he compiles and links to various interesting things on Google Earth.

The program did not name Google at first, saying that Long had linked to a “a foreign Internet map search engine”, but if you look at the footage, you can see a big Google logo. Google Earth is mentioned later in the segment.

Long says he was tricked into appearing on the program. This is translated from a short message he posted to Google Buzz:

In the morning of May 6, the Shenzhen City Planning Department and phoned me to go for an investigation. When I arrived, I found there journalists video-taping. I asked them who they worked for but they did not answer. I asked other people present why they were taping, and the answer was they were making a record of the proceedings. They said my website was suspected of being involved in a file on Google Earth about “China’s National Military Secrets”. They demanded that I made a self-examination, delete everything on my website connected with “National military secrets” and they gave me a 5,000 yuan fine and a statement of punishment. 

Afterwards, a female journalist continued to ask me questions. From beginning to end, they did not divulge that they were from the ‘Topics in Focus’ program on CCTV. If I knew that, I would have refused to answer questions because it’s obvious they want to make trumped up charges against Google.

In CCAV’s explanation [CCAV is a mocking way Chinese Internet users refer to CCTV, conflating its name with AV, is an abbreviation for Adult Video], I went from being born in the 1970s to the 1980s, my blog about IT turned into a military fan blog, my forum with less than 30 visitors a day turned into a favorite website that is frequently visited by military hobbysists.

In a word, I got played by CCAV.

Despite the authorities’ best efforts inside China, it’s hard to control Google Earth enthusiasts and it’s easy to find all kinds of so-called sensitive information by searching for “kmz” files (one format Google Earth uses for maps and annotations made by users).

Do the mapping authorities really believe they can stop such information from being added to the Internet?

Probably not: if there is a rational reason for this purge, it’s probably a way of making sure unauthorized vendors do not poach on the turf of government mandated providers of maps and GPS services. Giving CCTV another chance to give Google a little slap in the face is just an added bonus.

Update: By email, William Long informed us that he has not been made to pay the fine yet, and suspects that it may not be enforced.

Update 2: The China Daily has published an article on the clampdown that goes over much of the same ground as the CCTV and China Economy reports linked below: New rules for Net mapping. It includes a quote from an academic intended to make the map clampdown seem like normal behavior:

“That’s quite normal for any country. No one would agree to put its own map information in other countries,” said Li Zhilin, professor of the department of land surveying and geo-informatics at Polytechnic University of Hong Kong.

Perhaps professor Li should spend some time looking at what Americans upload to Google Earth, which is available to all other countries that do not block it.

Links and Sources
This entry was posted in Maps and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.