China blocks access to movie site

2:37 AM PST 01/08/2010 by Jonathan Landreth, AP

IMDB.com unavailable since Wednesday, cause unknown

BEIJING -- Access to IMDb.com was blocked in China this week, adding the movie business Internet portal to a fast-growing list of banned Web sites featuring user-generated content, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The site, fully named the Internet Movie Database, is owned by online bookselling giant Amazon.com, and claims over 57 million monthly visitors.

Readers looking for everything from movie trivia to settle bets to job opportunities on projects in development can access the site in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

But there's no Chinese-language edition of IMDb and industry insiders here say they can't understand why it's been shut down for since Wednesday.

One Hollywood executive here, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted in disbelief that her friends at the state-run China Film Group rely on IMDb all the time.

Typically the government's censorship efforts focus on trying to block China's 338 million Web users from accessing online pornography and violence.  The government seldom reacts to queries about blocking foreign Web sites or gives any official notice when such action is taken.

For clues to Beijing's beef with IMDb, a quick scan of the site turned up plenty of information relating to politically sensitive search terms such as "Dalai Lama" and "Rebiya Kadeer" -- the names of members of two exiled ethnic minorities considered separatists by China's one-party government.

For instance, IMDb lists "The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom," a 2009 documentary whose planned screening this week at the Palm Springs International Film Festival caused the state-run China Film Group to pull two of its films from competition in protest.

Likewise, typing "Kadeer"-- persona non-grata for her alleged masterminding of recent violence in western China's Xinjiang region -- turns up the IMDb listing for "China: Rebirth of an Empire," a 2009 documentary featuring Kadeer and exiled Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng.

Neither film's IMDb listings has any comments at all. But Web watchers in China say that increasingly it's the potential to display offending user-generated content that matters.

"China's censors are most interested in blocking sites with user-generated content and comments," said Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of Danwei.org, a Beijing-based media-watching Web site that itself was blocked on July 3, two days before ethnic tensions in Xinjiang boiled over in to a bloody riot.

Social networking site Facebook was shut in China on July 8 because it was disseminating Kadeer's separatist propaganda, according to Dong Guangpeng, a media adviser to China's cabinet based at Tsinghua University.

Facebook remains blocked, as do YouTube and Twitter. Meanwhile, plenty of information about Tibet and Xinjiang -- and other potentially sensitive topics -- is readily available on any number of other sites such as iTunes, Google and IMDB-owned Amazon, whose representatives in China could not be reached for comment.
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