Saturday, February 11, 2006

China, Bill Gates and Sassy

Does anyone still remember how agitated the Pinoy blogosphere last year when a Philippine trial judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) to pull out from its website, one of the most popular in the Philippines, a blog entry allegedly defamatory of a litigant who had petitioned for the court order? A slue of self-styled pundits, bloggers and commenters (myself among them) came to the succor of PCIJ as if to fret again: Oh my, only in the Philippines!

Dopey judge, we all seemed to have groused in unison. Internet is free, democratic, and borderless, even chaotic, insurrectionary or pornographic, whether literally or dialectically. Doesn’t his Honor get it?

Nonetheless, PCIJ, under pain of contempt citation, obliged. However, the Filipino blogging community in defiance reproduced, reposted or repeatedly hyperlinked the withdrawn, but cached, content if only to prove that the TRO was dumb, futile – and “primitive”(as I’ve also argued).

Well, the great white knights in shining armour of the Internet (Microsoft, Yahoo and Google), from whose god-like personification in the Internet realm a sea of devotees derive their newfound religion and Net-era democratic culture and values, obliged too – not out of obeisance to the “rule of law” (and TRO proceeds from it) but out of submission to the rule of the jungle where “In the end, sir, we all kill for profit” (to lift some words once attributed to General Nathaniel Greene addressing George Washington).

MSN shut a blog deemed to be offensive to Beijing authorities, Yahoo squealed the IP address of a Chinese journalist now sentenced to a 10-year jail term as a result, and Google is blocking access by Chinese users to its cached storage (the same one accessed by Pinoy bloggers to defy the trial court’s order) and censoring China-based Google.cn, all at the behest of the Chinese government. “Don’t be evil” (Google’s motto), just bargain.

“(W)e are not going to pick up and go home,” Bill gates reportedly told the delegates to World Economic Forum in Davos. The curtailment notwithstanding, the Internet is good for “Chinese political engagement,” Mr. Gates insisted, unabashedly hairsplitting his already contorted reasoning, i.e., censorship is better than no Internet (that allows the Chinese to search or chat or blog about almost anything except maybe democracy and freedom) at all.

There are, as of 2005, 111 million Chinese Internet users (and growing geometrically), doubtless an enormous business opportunity no other country in the world could offer the world’s Internet giants? The China market has always been an enchanting behemoth of a dragon (at the turn of the last century the Americans were willing to cause the death of nearly a quarter of a million Filipinos to set foot there) whose growth and full unfolding Yahoo, Microsoft or Google cannot afford to smother; to dare is to stunt their own. Hence, not to submit to the Chinese demand for censorship would be bad for the same old ambitions by American business. Concern for the Chinese people (as for “the half devil and half child”) is an old refrain.

The pursuit of money or profit (oil in another case) can get ahead of any paean for democracy. Surprised? When unchecked, the Communist Party in China, Inc. or Bill Gates in Microsoft can be as undemocratic or authoritarian as Sassy Lawyer (the “mother of Philippine blogosphere”?- mlq3) in her blogsite. “That’s your last comment on my blog,” Sassy has decreed an FRO (i.e., final restraining order) to Daddy DJB. It’s about power too.

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