Yahoo tried to draw some favorable press coverage today.
(That's actress Charlize Theron, but she's very small, hard to recognize. That's deliberate, as you'll see.)
In the wake of a scandal over the fact its Chinese affiliate cooperated with authorities to silence dissidents, the story Americans were told by Yahoo today was that it will do everything it can to fight Web censorship.
That’s not the way the story was carried in China. An American correspondent to Dave Farber’s list wrote:
“In my Beijing hotel room this morning CNN aired a piece about Yahoo calling for search engines to cooperate to deal with China's ‘search engine rules.’”
As the TV correspondent was about to say the word censorship, this writer added, the sound went blank, so it might have appeared to Chinese that Yahoo was, in fact, continuing to cooperate with its government. The Farber correspondent used asterisks in writing the word censorship, in order, he said, to get it past possible Chinese censorship. It got through.
The use of asterisks, of inference, of badda-boom badda-bing, in discussing subjects like freedom in China is widespread. It’s titillating – as sex was in America under the Hays Office. The level of sex in America didn’t decline under the code, but many Americans who were alive then say it was enjoyed more than it is in today’s era of free Web porn.
Could this be true for freedom as well? Chinese people share the government’s fear of anarchy. Americans, fortunately, have not faced the prospect in centuries, and this generation firmly shied away from it in the 1960s. We still prefer Nixon to Woodstock.
Should the Chinese be any different? Must they be?