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Recalcitrant shareholders want Yahoo to continue assisting Chinese censors

Yahoo shareholders have vetoed with an overwhelming majority the company's proposed Chinese anti-censorship policy. This comes close on the heels of the mother of jailed Chinese journalist Shi Tao announcing plans to continue with the lawsuit against Yahoo. Proposals to set up a human rights committee with the task of reviewing Yahoo’s policies around the world, specifically in China, were also thwarted.

The proposal was presented to an estimated 100 shareholders at Yahoo’s annual general meeting where it gathered just 15 per cent support. The creation of a human rights committee fared even worse, generating support from just four per cent of shareholders.

Gao Qinsheng, mother of jailed Chinese journalist Shi Tao, holds a trophy of the Golden Pen of Freedom Award, which was presented by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) to her son last week, during a news conference in Hong Kong June 10, 2007. Shi is serving a 10-year prison sentence for passing on information on how Chinese authorities instructed local media to cover the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Internet services provider Yahoo provided Chinese authorities with information leading to Shi's arrest. (Reuters/Paul Yeung)

The defeated proposal would have required Yahoo to implement a series of policies, such as not hosting individuals’s data in countries where political dissent is considered a crime. It would have also called for Yahoo to not engage in self-censorship and to use all legal means to resist censorship demands, complying with them only if legally bound to do so.

Yahoo is not the first Internet company to shoot down such a proposal. Internet giant Google also defeated a similar proposal at its shareholders meeting last month.

Since 2005 Yahoo has been criticised by human rights groups for its role in handing over political dissidents’s emails to the Chinese government. The materials were used to prosecute and imprison the activists. Yahoo has stated its purpose in an Associated Press(AP) report saying that companies operating in China must comply with Chinese law or risk having their employees face civil or criminal penalties.

Yahoo has been heavily criticised for “carrying out censorship for the Chinese Government "(by Human Rights Watch). It is also facing a lawsuit where Chinese journalist Shi Tao has claimed that Yahoo provided his emails on Chinese media restrictions to the government leading to his ten year imprisonment in 2005. Amnesty International issued a report last week that was highly critical of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco for supporting censorship in China and around the world.

In a statement provided to AP who asked the company to comment on Shi Tao’s lawsuit, Yahoo said that it was dismayed that people were being imprisoned for expressing their political views on the Internet. It also said that it condemns "punishment of any activity internationally recognised as free expression" and has communicated the same to China.

A screengrab of www.flickr.com is seen June 12, 2007. Flickr.com, one of the world's most popular online photo-sharing sites and owned by Yahoo Inc, is likely being blocked by the Chinese government, Yahoo's Hong Kong unit said on Tuesday. (Screengrab/ www.flickr.com/Reuters)

The New York Times quoted Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s co-founder and “chief Yahoo,” who said at the meeting that the company had been actively lobbying the United States government to assist Internet companies in fighting censorship and protecting human rights in countries like China. Yahoo has also been working with academics, nongovernmental organisations and others to create a set of principles to protect freedom of expression, he said.

Amnesty has said that the veto of the anti–censorship proposal is “one in the eye for human rights.” Steve Ballinger, a spokesman for Amnesty, said "It is very disappointing; we were very supportive of the proposals." He said, "We will continue to put pressure on Yahoo and we will encourage our members to write to them to express their feelings on the issue. We have not given up on this in the slightest."

Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has said that Yahoo regularly works with the Chinese police and was involved in most of the cases where dissidents or journalists who annoyed the authorities have been jailed Yahoo refused to testify at a special conference on the issue held by the US government Congressional Human Rights Caucus, preferring instead to send a statement.

In its statement Yahoo said "We do not consider the Internet situation in China to be one of 'business as usual'.”Beyond commercial considerations, we believe that our services have promoted personal expression and enabled far wider access to independent sources of information for hundreds of millions of individuals in China and elsewhere in the world."

Yahoo! employee Charles Honig walks outside Yahoo! headquarters in Santa Clara, California in this March 7, 2001 photo. Yahoo has so thoroughly been eclipsed by Google that a growing contingent of Yahoo shareholders believes the company would be better off without CEO Terry Semel, who was likely to face a chorus of discontent when he took the stage at Yahoo's annual shareholders meeting Tuesday. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

According to a BBC report, whole websites - including media sources - are eliminated from Yahoo and Google in China. Delisted sites are skipped over when the search engine trawls the web for results. Neither Yahoo nor any other company has released a list of websites that have been delisted for their political and religious content. The Internet firms argue it is better to offer Chinese users some information than none at all.

Meanwhile, Yahoo owned photo sharing site “Flickr” has reportedly been blocked by Chinese authorities. A representative from Yahoo! Hong Kong confirmed the issue to Reuters: "It is our understanding that Flickr users in China are not able to see images on Flickr, and we have confirmed that this is not a technical issue on our end. It appears that the Chinese government is restricting access to Flickr, although we have not received confirmation from them."

Date posted: June 15, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 12737