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China’s blackout of U.S. media can no longer be ignored

July 16, 2013

By Jim Sciutto

From the moment we land in China, Americans must adjust to an aggressively censored version of the Internet, sanitized of the United States’ most iconic brands. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are blocked. Google is partially blocked and sometimes runs through a ringer of digital interference that makes it painfully slow. The New York Times and Bloomberg News are off-limits, while the Wall Street Journal and other U.S. news sites endure targeted blockages of stories deemed sensitive.

This censorship is not just an inconvenience but also a reminder that many leading U.S. media and technology companies are excluded, or largely excluded, from one of the world’s largest markets and this country’s largest trading partner.

The United States should act forcefully to make this media freedom issue also about trade.

The international community missed an opportunity when China was allowed to enter the World Trade Organization in 2001 while refusing to sign the media portion of the membership agreement.

But China’s Web-site-blocking appears inconsistent with its broader free-trade commitments under WTO and related agreements, including the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). As the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs has noted, GATT Article III stipulates that countries should apply “no less favorable” treatment to goods or services imported from other member countries. China’s arbitrary blockage of U.S. Web sites would seem to violate this: The New York Times and Bloomberg are blocked while other U.S. and international news sites are not. Similarly, Facebook and Twitter are shut down, while Chinese social media sites, such as Renren, are allowed to operate with censoring. Read the rest of the story in the Washington Post.

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