We have been discussing the crackdown on “fake news,” including my view that this has become the latest rationale for various countries to rollback on free speech, including most recently top lawyers in Italy. This includes the question yesterday of whether newspaper like the Washington Post could be charged as the purveyors of “fake news.” Now that speculation appears to be reality in China where Apple took down the App for the New York Times, a move assumed to be part of China’s transparent campaign against what it deems “fake news” — which obviously means real news revealing truths about the authoritarian regime. Critics have charged that Apple has agreed to be the agent of censorship in order to pursue business in China. In the meantime, government controlled newspapers have invited the New York Times to “reflect” on it being barred from the App store. Not surprisingly, the Obama Administration’s effort to limit free speech has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese, who are citing the Obama policies (and new propaganda office) as support for its own legitimacy as an authoritarian system.
The New York Times reports that the banning of the App appears under regulations released in June 2016 called Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Application Information Services. Those regulations state that apps cannot “engage in activities prohibited by laws and regulations such as endangering national security, disrupting social order and violating the legitimate rights and interests of others.” The cyberspace administration says on its website that apps also cannot publish “prohibited” information. In China, all of those disruptive postings includes telling the truth about the regime, the environment, and other elements of Chinese life.
I have been long critical of the Obama Administration and its checkered history on free speech, particularly in its international policies. The latest example is President Obama’s support for an international crackdown on “fake news,” which has thrilled authoritarian countries. The Chinese have clearly taken notice and now cite the Obama policies as support for its own crackdown with the barring of the New York Times app:
[The New York Times has] lashed out at China regarding freedom of the press. Since 2012, The New York Times has been one of the Western media outlets that has taken the lead in doing so-called investigative reports and churning out sensational stories about sensitive topics in China, trying to wield influence in China’s internal affairs and play a special political role.
Managing information in the Internet era is a challenge that all the countries need to face. In late December, outgoing US President Barack Obama signed an anti-propaganda act into law. The State Department will also establish an anti-propaganda center later this year which is designed to help the US “counter foreign government propaganda from Russia, China, and other nations.”
Just as the torture program under George Bush emboldened extremist countries, the Obama anti-free speech efforts have accomplished the same ignoble end.
Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, “We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations,” Fred Sainz, an Apple spokesman, said of the Times apps. “As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store. When this situation changes, the App Store will once again offer the New York Times app for download in China.”
Of course, curious minds are wondering when “this situation changes” other than China becoming a free nation.