No amount of spin can sell a poor policy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 August, 2009, 12:00am

The findings of a mainland survey on the controversial Green Dam-Youth Escort software appear impressive. Only 5 per cent of respondents opposed installing it on their computers to protect them from internet pornography. An overwhelming vote of confidence, it might be thought, in the government's plan to make the software compulsory for all new computers. State media certainly thought so - they were quick to trumpet the figure.

But all is not as it seems. First, all those surveyed were schoolchildren aged between six and 13. Then, there is the other figure produced by the survey: 80 per cent of the children said they had no opinion on the issue. This is not surprising, seeing as most of them would not even know what pornography is, let alone be able to form a view on whether Green Dam constitutes a disproportionate restriction on internet freedom.

Every government engages in propaganda. Some call it public relations, others refer to it as a press conference. The aim is to sell government policies in such a way as to win over what might otherwise be a sceptical population. Beijing's constant missteps with its Green Dam software shows it has a long way to go in mastering the concept.

Green Dam has been controversial since it was revealed in May. Internet censorship is widespread, and suspicions were rife that the software was an effort to toughen the crackdown. Independent computer users testing prelaunch versions quickly found programming flaws that compromised security and blocked websites not containing pornography.

Faced with a backlash from foreign computer manufacturers, the government postponed the launch. It has nonetheless continued to push the product. Unbelievable surveys are no way to repair the damage done. The only way to describe such efforts is incompetent propaganda. Better would have been to hold a press conference telling the world that the Green Dam project was dead and officially being buried.