The Beijing Daily publishes an editorial calling for Chinese media “to sing the main theme” ie, to reflect official policy and propaganda unreflectively. China Media Project notes that Sina Weibo promptly blocks searches for the site and wonders if there’s not some factional competition in play, since the editorial clearly reflects the viewpoint from somwehere within the government, ie is something that in normal circumstances would not be blocked.
Maybe there’s something else at work. I’ve been wondering for a while about the practical consequences of the government’s ‘self-discipline’ requirements for media censorship, which require outsourcing day to day responsibility for it from the Party machine to the companies concerned, and moreover to a sociologically identifiable group of people within them: young, urban, probably more male than female, somewhat geeky, but on the content side rather than hardcore technology freaks: people who may have a certain commonality of attitudes, to their customers, to their ultimate bosses and maybe about life in general. In short, a great deal of information management is carried out by a semi-independent technical cadre whose opinions we can expect to have several points of variance with those of the people issuing instructions. Also, these are people who have privileged access to the stuff that no-one else is allowed to see. How does that affect their views?
I’m not saying a rebellion is in the offing: any kind of general open defiance would result in the punishment of the people concerned and probably the shutting down of the company they worked for. But there’s the whole range of techniques of the classical Work to Rule – a certain sluggishness in execution, a tendency to willfully misunderstand instructions, a studied adherence to the exact letter rather than the general spirit of the law as laid down, a settled commitment to do the minimum necessary – and I think sometimes that these may be in operation.
For instance, one level of Weibo censorship – there are six, apparently – allows posts to stay up but prevents them being forwarded/retweeted. And yet the same posts are often allowed to be copied and manually inserted into comments threads. More generally, in the rumpus over BXL and Chen Guangcheng I got the sense of a certain hovering of the hand over the delete button, though I’m in no position to confirm that. It just seemed that stuff was allowed to get a hell of a way out there before being reined in.
So viewing the Beijing Daily editorial in this light, perhaps the self-discipline group at Sina Weibo were told to ensure that the Beijing Daily editorial didn’t get a thorough kicking on Weibo and decided that the "best" way to do that would be to block access to it altogether. Job done, right boss?