MSN closure of China blog prompts call for ethics guide

The US government is being urged to force leading internet publishers to sign an international code of conduct on freedom of expression, following the latest case of a blog being shut down after pressure from the Chinese authorities.

On New Year’s Eve, Microsoft closed the MSN Spaces blog run by Zhao Jing, aka Michael Anti, a China-based New York Times researcher who had used posts to the site to protest against the sacking of three editors on the Beijing News.

Bill Gates’ company is one of several to operate filters in China that censor blog posts containing words like “democracy” and “Tibet independence”; last year, Chinese authorities also jailed a journalist for sending a Yahoo! e-mail about human rights violations after the portal giant divulged the writer’s account details.

Now Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), an organisation that protects press freedoms, has handed Washington DC legislators a code containing “six concrete ways to make [American] companies behave ethically” in repressive countries.

“US companies would not be allowed to locate their host servers within repressive countries,” the code states. “If the authorities of a repressive country desire the closure of a publication hosted by a US company, they would have to request it under a procedure supervised by the US judicial authorities.”

But RSF has previously won little ground in response to complaints made to the likes of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo!, who protest there is little they can do.

“We’ve made a choice to run a service in China and, to do that, we need to adhere to local regulations and laws,” Seattle-based MSN Spaces manager Michael Connoly wrote on his blog.

“This is not unique to MSN Spaces; this is something that every company has to do if it operates in China. When an offence is found that actually breaks a national law, we have no choice but to take down the site.”

Meanwhile, RSF has launched an online petition so support its campaign, and pro-freedom Chinese bloggers have launched a campaign to Say No to MSN Spaces.

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