Friday, June 5, 2009

Perhaps Chinese censorship IS bad for Chinese business. But what about Singapore?

On Tuesday I wrote a post entitled Why the Chinese aren't tweeting about the Hummer purchase, which observed that ironically, Chinese people were unable to tweet about a Chinese firm's purchase of Hummer. Why not? Because Twitter was blocked in China in an effort to minimize in-country disruptions as the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approached. In a subsequent comment to the post, I observed:

[T]here's the starry-eyed idealist in me that believes that business benefits when there is a free flow of communication between businesspeople, but the fact that some businesses have done well in totalitarian governments indicates to me that my idealism may be misplaced.

Perhaps not. BusinessWeek links to a post by Robert Clark that states that China may have harmed its business prospects:

All of this matters to the telecom and internet industries – not just because they are central to the whole system of censorship. They are – and direct control over them is crucial to the survival of one-party rule.

But it also means that China cannot permit the growth of an open and competitive telecom industry. It refuses to allow private or – in breach of its WTO commitments - foreign players into the market.

But Clark observes that these artifical controls on China's telecom industry also affect China's participation in the world market:

China Mobile’s sole foray abroad has been to buy the smallest and weakest player in Pakistan. Its political stunt in trying to buy into Taiwan is now an embarrassment.

Seven years after 3G was launched worldwide, Chinese consumers are today only just getting access to high-speed mobile services, while their government has spent billions on the TD-SCDMA boondoggle.

Read the rest of Clark's thoughts here. And BusinessWeek's Bruce Einhorn goes further:

And what’s true for the telecom industry is true for other Chinese industries deemed too sensitive for foreigners to touch. Compare China’s entertainment industry, for instance, to Bollywood to see another example of the government dooming its own companies to second-rate status by refusing to loosen its grip.

Are Clark and Einhorn right? Because if they are, then one would expect that Chinese business problems resulting from Chinese censorship would be paralleled by similar Singapore business problems resulting from Singapore censorship. In a 2007 post, I linked to a Reuters article on the Singapore Media Development Authority rap video:

It hopes the rap video will showcase its potential to be "a vibrant media city".

But critics say this ambition does not rhyme with Singapore's regular censorship of films and theatre and the many defamation lawsuits its government have launched against foreign media.

Well, if Bollywood is better than China, then maybe Indian rappers are better than Singapore rappers.

More to the point of social media, I linked to this Cherian George post:

More intriguing is whether social networking platforms would get around the PER's current restrictions on using e-mail to spread campaign messages. The regulations allow parties to mail to their own mailing lists, but parties can't encourage chain letters: an e-mail is not supposed to invite readers to pass it on to all their friends. This prohibition limits the powerful viral potential of e-mail communication.

And as for Singapore in 2009, this March 20 story is amusing:

It’s amusing to see the Singapore newspapers have not run the complete BBC interview with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The broadsheet Straits Times and the freesheet Today have not published the last question asked in the interview, which can be heard in a five-and-a-half-minute audio clip on the BBC World Service website.

The interviewer said: “Finally, Prime Minister, I read that you are apparently the highest paid head of government in the world. Your salary is about four or five times what President Obama gets. Are you worth all that money?”

PM Lee laughed and said: “I am not comparing myself and I don’t look at these rankings.We go on a system which is open, honest, transparent...."

Transparent. Yet the Singapore publications wouldn't print this question and this answer. So in the future, which publication will you reference? I don't have access to a printed coyp [5:22 PM - OR, FOR THAT MATTER, A PRINTED COPY] of the Straits Times, but the truncated online version certainly doesn't discuss salary. But it does include this statement in the comments:

Warning: Any user who posts offensive or irrelevant comments will be banned from this Discussion Board.

The title of the Straits Times online article? "Govt will buffer impact."

Indeed they will.
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