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Summary:

Should news outlets in China engage in occasional self-censorship for the greater good of reaching readers and projecting influence?

Media outlets operating in China face an unpleasant dilemma: self-censor or else lose access to millions of readers and a valuable news market. Both the New York Times and Bloomberg News chose the second option, and don’t regret the decision.

Last summer, the news organizations published stories that described the billions in wealth held by the family of the Chinese premier. In response, China shut down the Times’ Mandarin news service, blocked its English website and denied visas to journalists. The government also blocked Bloomberg‘s consumer-facing websites, bloomberg.com and BusinessWeek — a block that remains in place today.

Speaking at the Google Big Tent event in Washington on Friday, Bloomberg’s Chief Content Officer, Norman Pearlstine, explained the decision to publish.”We would lose our credibility [if we didn't],” said Pearlstine. He added that, in China, “information is perceived as belonging to the state” and said he doesn’t anticipate this view changing in the near future.

Bill Keller, a former editor-in-chief and current columnist for the New York Times, echoed Pearlstine’s views that news publishers can’t rationalize censorship by saying they would lose money and influence in China. “They can make life miserable for you,” Keller said of the Chinese government, adding that “this will cost money.”

There may, however, be a bright side to being shut out of China. According to Keller, many Chinese are aware that the Times and Bloomberg deliberately took a financial hit to preserve their brands — and in the long run, this will earn them loyalty and trust.

Keller and Pearlstine spoke on a panel with media executive Mark Whitaker and Google’s Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, at a Google “Big Tent” event about security and free speech in the digital age.

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  1. A lot of the “in the know” Chinese people I know here in Shanghai are much more likely to trust news from the NYT or Bloomberg precisely because they are willing to hold out. Many admire Google as well. The difficulty is that the PRC always likes to retain the bit of control and, like the movie industry is finding, they have no problem promising something and then doing something else. I pity any company trying to deal with the Chinese government who tries to do so honestly.

  2. Those who are “in the Know” are gullible.
    Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, New York Times should have gotten used to self-censorship by now, because “non of them” has had any in depth article or expose about corruption that has been going on for many years in the Wall Street. Just read Matt Taibbi’s articles in Rolling Stone. Why Matt is the only reporter who is covering corruption in Wall Street?

  3. Before you put NYT on a pedistool for “standing up to the Commies” open the A section of their US print edition every few weeks. Inside you will find several pages of China Daily, the English version of their state controlled media. They also lauded the 90th anniversary of the Communist take over with a multi-page section that, oddly enough, looked exactly the same as the one in WSJ. These are all paid for by the Communist Party. You can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth, saying “we stand up for freedom” but at the same time take money from the CCP to put propaganda in your paper.
    And finally, this “exposé”…don’t you find it odd that, in a country rife with heightened security, the NYT was “magically” able to get around all that and expose a high level politician? Isn’t it at all possible that a political rival looking to crush him gave the reporter that info on a platter? NYT got played…

  4. akhilalmeida Monday, April 29, 2013

    Strange that NYT chooses self censorship at home by avoiding coverage of drone strikes while claiming to stand for a “free press” by taking a stand against the PRC. Double standards abound.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/feb/06/us-newspapers-accused-complicity-drone
    http://www.salon.com/2013/02/07/new_york_times_drone_complicity/

  5. missionflashpack Thursday, May 9, 2013

    Having just spent a month in China, I can tell you a world with New York Times is far better than one without.

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