41pc of mainland websites close in just one year
The number of websites on the mainland almost halved last year, an official think tank says - but it denies a clampdown by the authorities is mainly to blame.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Annual Report on the Development of New Media said there were 1.91 million websites at the end of last year, down 41 per cent from 3.23 million at the end of 2009.
Liu Ruisheng, managing editor of the report and a deputy researcher at the academy's journalism and communications research institute, said the drop in website numbers was a result of the economic downturn. The mainland has 457 million internet users.
'China has a very high level of freedom of online speech,' Liu said. 'There have been very few cases where websites were shut down in recent years purely to control speech.'
Some websites, including online forums and microblog services, had just gone bust, he said.
'The establishment and operation of websites is subject to laws and regulations,' Liu said. 'Some illegal websites were shut down during a clampdown on obscene content.'
Since December 2009, thousands of small websites, including some not linked to pornography, have been shut down in a nationwide campaign supposedly targeting pornographic websites. The websites closed were not 'officially registered'.
Independent analysts said the reduction in the number of websites was a result of measures to tighten control of public expression.
'The number of interactive websites, including online forums, has plummeted,' said Wu Qiang , an internet analyst at Tsinghua University. 'The drop in numbers was effective in controlling speech. Online forums and bulletin boards are much less active than before.'
The Sdnews.com.cn official news portal based in Jinan , Shandong , has reportedly been down since last Wednesday. It was blank yesterday apart from one sentence saying it was trying to fix a technical problem. The provincial publicity department denied it was related to its publication of a mourning banner for former president Jiang Zemin - suggesting he had died.
The report also said regulators had become increasingly aware of foreign forces trying to 'infiltrate our [political] ideology' online.
It said ideological safety had become the most important issue for China in the internet era, with the US government-backed Voice of America having shifted its propaganda focus from radio to the internet.
'It's normal for the US to try to influence other countries with its own ideology and China is its No1 target and rival,' Liu said. It was getting more difficult to maintain China's ideological safety, he warned.
'The withdrawal of Google last year was a complete political conspiracy planned by Google and the US government, in which new media became an important tool for the US in pursuing hegemony and reining in other countries, like a machine gun in a political attack on China,' Liu said.
The authorities have tightened controls on the internet in the wake of online calls for 'jasmine rallies' emulating democratic revolutions in the Arab world this year.
New words including 'jasmine' were added to the list of terms filtered from online postings.
'When Western countries are friendly and no longer speculate on the jasmine [revolution], we won't hesitate to [remove jasmine from the filtered list],' Liu said.
While the number of websites may be down, the report said the number of mainland webpages had risen 78.6 per cent to 60 billion, which it said was an indication of a wider variety of online content.
The number of websites worldwide, according to a survey this month by analyst Netcraft
- In August 1995, there were just 18,000