Chinese authorities are spying on email sent and received by The Daily Telegraph’s Beijing blogger, it has been claimed.
The newspaper’s China correspondent, whose blog is among the liveliest of seven journals started by the broadsheet’s foreign correspondents in January, said journalists in the country lacked freedom, while his Chinese readers are reluctant to add their opinions to the blog for fear of government retribution.
“Our emails are monitored, almost certainly,” said Richard Spencer. “And odd things happen – sometimes emails don’t get delivered or are delayed. There was one email that, whenever I tried to open it, I was crashed out.”
China’s efforts to censor reporters and bloggers have caused increasing concern after revelations that the major US internet services have complied with government requests to supply information used to jail dissidents, shut down critical websites and launched search services that omit ‘objectionable’ phrases like “democracy” and “Falung Gong”.
Mr Spencer, who has worked from Beijing for three years, said the Chinese authorities are more interested in censoring and blocking their own citizens than English-language reporting from the country, but he expressed worries about other restrictions and blocking of overseas websites.
“There is very little that feels like ‘censorship’ in the actual process of writing,” he told journalism.co.uk. “But there is a lot of lack of freedom in travel, in finding out information and disruption of our emails. Occasionally you might get called in to be told off about something.
“Many Chinese might feel uncomfortable about making their opinions clear by adding comments, partly because of the general fear of publicising one’s political opinions. But I don’t really take any notice of what the government think in what I write – if I’m blocked, so be it.
“They are stupid not to allow more freedom of speech than they do. Without freedom of information and exchange of opinions, how can Chinese politics develop, as everyone says they must, with any integrity?”
Mr Spencer also spoke out against compliance with Chinese expression policies by US-registered online services like Yahoo!, MSN and Google, saying companies should “refuse to help until absolutely forced, make things difficult, hire lawyers to pore over the documents, seek ‘compromise’ solutions and, whenever possible, make absolutely and publicly clear that you believe that what you are being expected to do is wrong”.
“I’m told the number of readers of all our blogs is increasing fast,” Mr Spencer added. “Obviously blogging is different from writing for the newspaper, because it is much more free-form and personal. I can mix opinions and facts in an undisciplined way, and throw in things that are unprovable, anecdotal or just eccentric. On the other hand, unlike independent bloggers, I also have to remember I’m representing the newspaper, so I can’t let rip entirely on my opinions or libel people.
“Nowadays, there’s more stress on the way a news story is written and analysed than on getting it first because, with satellite TV and video cameras all over the world getting to it first, it has become less of an issue. Now people are demanding that interesting stuff is delivered to them in different ways and to suit different tastes.”