China pulls plug on New York Times websites

A woman reads the online version of the New York Times.

It took only a little over two hours for Chinese authorities to block the New York Times website inside China after the story on the billion dollar fortune controlled by relatives of Primier Wen Jiabao was published.

And according to Beijing-based Chinese media critic Jeremy Goldkorn, it may take weeks for the site to come back -- but that doesn't mean the Chinese won't read the story.

"Chinese is a global language," says Goldkorn. "And Chinese communities across the world, including the United States, are also a market, but it will certainly hurt them here."

But Goldkorn doesn't think the New York Times site was meant to be a big revenue generator for the company. "As long as they're aware of that, that block or no block, it's not going to be a cash cow for quite some time to come," he says. "They should just be able to keep their eye on the long-term future."

That's what Bloomberg keeps telling itself. Its site has been blocked inside China for four months thanks to a story it published about the family fortune of Xi Jinping, China's presumed next president. Beijing-based law professor Stan Abrams isn't the sure the risk is worth it. After all, says Abrams, both stories didn't really show the Chinese people something they didn't already know.

"I think the average person on the street here would say 'yeah, uh huh, we knew that,'" says Abrams.

Still, for China's government the New York Times report couldn't have been directed at a more vulnerable official. The premier is affectionally called 'Grandpa Wen' by the Chinese; he's seen as one of the least corrupt political leaders. And China's censors are doing whatever they can at this point to maintain that image.

 

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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