A senior government official admitted yesterday that the implementation of the Green Dam online pornographic filter was "not thoughtful enough".
The government had demanded in May, through a directive issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), that all PC manufacturers ensure the Green Dam filtering software was included with all PCs sold in China by July 1.
The software was intended to offer PC owners the opportunity to screen Internet sites featuring pornography and violence. It was intended to protect minors from such content and need not have been used by other users.
However, after a backlash from some PC makers, some PC users and even some governments, the MIIT subsequently ordered a delay, one day before the scheduled live date.
"The choice of words in the directive was not clear enough, which led to people's misunderstanding of why the Green Dam software was ordered to be available on all computers," said Minister of MIIT Li Yizhong.
Minister of MIIT Li Yizhong answered questions at the press conference on August 13, 2009.[China.org.cn]
He explained that MIIT wanted the software to be included with PCs sold in China - but it was never the ministry's intention to demand that the software be pre-installed. He said the ministry wanted PC makers to include the program's setup files on new PC's hard drives or provide CD-ROMs containing code with PC packages.
"PC users were to have the final say about whether to use the software or not," Li said. "We will listen to the public's views before issuing a new directive on Green Dam."
He declined to set a new deadline for the implementation of the software.
Observers welcomed the minister's comments.
"I am glad to see that the minister has admitted to the ministry's mistake and explained what happened in order to clear up any misunderstanding. That doesn't happen in China that often," said Li Chengyan, a professor from Peking University.
"It should be encouraged and government officials should do that more often."
He said officials who candidly talk about mistakes will gain the public's trust.
"Obviously, the MIIT had taken objections seriously from the public and experts, that's why they gradually backed down from their original directive," Li said.
"They should have sought their input before they spent taxpayers' money on having the software developed."
Zhang Ying, vice-president of Analysys International, a technology market research company based in Beijing, agreed.
"MIIT should have been this transparent about Green Dam-related issues from the very beginning," he said. "I hope they learned their lesson."
China will not force the mass installation of the software on PCs, but the software will be installed on computers in schools, Internet cafes and in other public places, the minister added.
Li stressed that making the filtering software available was "an act for public good" and said the program was in line with regulations from the World Trade Organization.
Attempts to politicize the issue or to "attack China's Internet management system" were irresponsible, he added.
The launch was postponed in June after PC producers said such a mass installation required more time.
Foreign computer manufacturers, 22 international chambers of commerce and the US government all wrote letters urging the Chinese government to reconsider the directive before Green Dam was postponed.
(China Daily August 14, 2009)