Posted by Cognito on Fri, Aug 30 2013

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Media updates from Southeast Asia and China

Vietnam to ban news sharing on social media

Vietnam  has recently announced a law that prohibits social media users or bloggers from quoting, sharing or exchanging general information on current events or news stories from newspapers, press agencies or other state-owned websites. The law also bans “[…] information that is against Vietnam, undermining national security, social order, and national unity […] or information distorting, slandering, and defaming the prestige of organisations, honour and dignity of individuals.”

According to the AFP report, Le Nam Thang, Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Information and Communication, was quoted from a local newspaper saying that the new rules “aim to help internet users find correct and clear information on the internet.”

This official order will be effective from September. However, it is uncertain how the authorities intend to regulate and monitor the huge amount of information flow circulating the internet. There is also a lack of further clarification on the boundaries between personal and public information.  As such, it is unclear how these rules will be enforced, or penalties imposed.

In 2012, Vietnam boasted  highest growth in the number of Facebook users in Asia, with a total of over 5 million users in the country.  According to ComScore, Vietnam has the biggest online population in Southeast Asia, with 16.1 million monthly PC users.

Thailand seeks to monitor mobile messages on apps such as Line

WSJ reported that the Thai police has sought to monitor messages exchanged between people on mobile messaging app such as Line, one of Asia's fastest-growing messaging app that is developed and owned by Line Corp. Social media users were also explicitly warned by the police “not to share or click "like" on such messages. “

According to FT, the police have cited national security as the main reason for their actions, as the situation in Thailand remains tense due to the discussion of a controversial political amnesty bill in parliament. Commander of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), Pol Maj Gen Pisit Paolin was quoted saying that some social network users were spreading rumours about an impending coup.

Opposition leaders fear the proposed bill will aid exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s return to Thailand. The parliamentary discussion has led to a series of anti-government protests in Bangkok.

China: Wall Street Journal’s quick brush with Censorship and Online Developments

Rumour has it that Wall Street Journal’s Chinese website was banned for unknown reasons on August 3. A quick check a few days later showed that the site is unblocked, as of August 7.

In any case, Wall Street Journal will not be the first western media to fall under  censorshipby the Chinese authorities.  The Chinese authorities are known for having tight controls on traditional media such as newspaper, radio and television.  WSJ merely joins an expanding list of blocked media sites that already includes Bloomberg and the New York Times.

The New York Times was blocked last year after publishing a report alleging that former Premier Wen Jiabao’s family had used their influence to gain a fortune of $2.7 billion. While it might be easy to conclude that negative reporting against the government will lead to censorship, there is no definite rule on how these censorships work.  Ashahi Shimbun,  one of Japan’s leading national newspaper, found itself on the wrong end of censorship when its social media accounts were blocked without a valid reason, despite no apparent wrong-doing or reporting.

The continuous rise of internet users and increasing popularity of social media sites like Weibo (Microblogging) poses additional challenges for the Chinese authorities, amongst which include spreading of rumours and falsification of information online  According to FT’s report, the latest crackdown (involving the arrest of a journalist, prominent blogger and 2 owners of a public relations firm) seems to suggest that the authorities are targeting social media users with large numbers of followers who can potentially shape public opinion.

Regulation of online information and censorship of social media posts will continue to top the agenda for the authorities in their bid to influence the growing online community, which has become more vocal and critical of the government through the use of social media channels. 

For more updates of what's happening in the financial service and media sector in Asia, follow us on Twitter @CognitoAsia.

Asia, Censorship, China, Online Media, Social Media, Thailand, Vietnam,
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