Casting a net into blue waters

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2005, 12:00am

The printed word has its limitations, so Muzimei, the notorious online sex diarist, has turned to podcasting technology to titillate and inform. It was 9am on September 12 and the Guangdong native was chatting online with a stranger who was celebrating his birthday. What would he like to do on his special day? Make love, he said, to the 27-year-old who has earned fame, if not yet fortune, by posting on the Web intimate details of her promiscuous existence - complete with the full names and very personal details of her many lovers.

At 10am he pushed her door bell, 'and at that moment I pushed the record button on my digital sound recorder', Muzimei said. He came in, they chatted, put on music, went into the bedroom, made love, chatted for a bit more, and at 10.30am, he left. Muzimei switched off the recorder and sat down at her computer to distribute her latest podcast - a romp with a stranger - to her thousands of fans.

'I think podcasts are more objective in some cases,' Muzimei said. 'In my blog I write what I see and think; I write how I perceive things. But with a podcast, people can hear everything for themselves. They can hear the dialogue, the sound of us making love, they have a much clearer picture of the experience.'

While Muzimei has found a, let's say, somewhat unorthodox use for the technology, others on the mainland are putting it to a host of different uses that are promoting the flow of information in a highly controlled environment.

Podcasting is the creation of audio files that can be saved on a website, then downloaded and listened to by anyone with a computer or portable MP3 player. The term podcast is something of a misnomer, as the files do not need either an iPod or a portable MP3 player to be played - only a computer with a media player.

In the United States, alternative DJs are leading the podcasting charge, essentially setting up cheap and independent radio stations. But behind them is an array of others who want to be heard. Religious groups are firing out 'Godcasts', while students who debate social issues in bars have tens of thousands of people downloading their 'Beercasts'.

In the mainland, too, the scope for political and social podcasting is huge. Last week, outspoken Taiwanese writer-turned-legislator Li Ao gave a speech at Peking University and the subsequent media reports were, as usual, heavily censored. Gone was his heavy satire and comments predicting the demise of the Communist Party. But, taking time out from her bedroom antics, Muzimei was there with her recorder. A few hours later, tens of thousands of people around the country were listening to the controversial speech in full, through her podcast.

Most bloggers and podcasters in China are frustrated journalists, according to Michael Anti, a political and social commentator who hosts a popular blog. 'There is no freedom of the press in China, so journalists have no space to express their real opinions in the traditional media,' he said. 'The internet is tightly controlled and censored too, of course, but in that space there is always a way to get around the controls.'

This is all, needless to say, causing headaches for those that want to see only one published opinion. At this stage they cannot even legally define podcasts - are they websites, broadcasts or something entirely different? - let alone effectively monitor and control them.

And the technology waits for no bureaucrat. It will not be long before the urban masses have access to podcast's video relation, dubbed by some as 'vlogs'. Then people can watch Mr Li's speech on their computers and mobile phones. Or even Muzimei's latest domestic engagement, for that matter.

Peter Goff is a Beijing-based journalist