Google, China and staying on message

Just before 6pm yesterday I had a phone call from the Comment Desk of the (London) Times. Would I be interested in writing an OpEd piece about the Google business and how it shows that attempts to censor the Internet are doomed? I replied that I wished that were true, but that, sadly, it isn’t, and that the moral of the Google furore is that determined governments can effectively censor the Net. I’d be happy to write a piece explaining this, I said. “Oh”, replied my caller, “that’s very interesting. I need to go back to my editor to discuss it. I’ll phone back later.”

Needless to say, he didn’t. But this morning the paper ran a rather good piece by George Walden arguing that Google was right to do the original deal, and is right to threaten to quit now, and expressing the hope that the Chinese will reach an accommodation with the company. Somehow, that seems like a faint hope. And if the Chinese do decide to talk to Google, then we will know that something has really changed in the Middle Kingdom.

LATER: Just to underscore the point I was trying to make to the Times guy, the New York Times this morning reports that:

Google’s declaration that it would stop cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship and consider shutting down its operations in China ricocheted around the world on Wednesday. But in China itself, the news was heavily censored.

Some big Chinese news portals initially carried a short dispatch on Google’s announcement, but that account soon tumbled from the headlines, and later reports omitted Google’s references to “free speech” and “surveillance.”

The only government response came later in the day from Xinhua, the official news agency, which ran a brief item quoting an anonymous official who was “seeking more information on Google’s statement that it could quit China.”