Commentators have questioned the sincerity of the Google-China conflict; they've suggested Google's anti-censorship stance was a public relations stunt to mask a strategic retreat. Others have questioned the real impact of Google's opposition. But almost no one denied the importance of the Internet censorship debate it sparked--until now.
Christian Caryl says the Google-China censorship debate is distracting from a more serious problem regarding freedom of information in China--increasing pressure on journalists:
Put bluntly: The climate for China's journalists is worsening, and it doesn't have anything to do with Google, or with the Chinese Communist Party's pretense to absolute ideological control of information. The problem is not that the party is scrubbing the Internet to remove stories it deems negative. The problem is the corrupt network between business and government, which places unwarranted pressure on journalists and editors.
Caryl cites a case in which the China Business Post "exposed malfeasance at the regional branch of one of China's biggest state banks." The angered bankers, through government connections, got the paper shut down.
Ultimately, focusing excessively on Internet censorship is a mistake. David Bankurski, a University of Hong Kong researcher whom Caryl interviews, says the real "litmus test is not whether netizens can run effective searches. It is whether reporters are allowed to report."