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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.