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March 19, 2013

China's Lift of IMDB Ban Could Signal Relaxed Censorship

by Matthew Hilburn

China has unblocked the popular entertainment website IMDB (Internet Movie Database), which has been blocked since 2010.

“I know very few cases where a site that’s been blocked for a long time is unblocked,” said Doug Young, a journalism professor at Fudan University in Shanghai and author of the new book The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China. “No reason is ever given. People are always left to guess.”

No reason for blocking IMDB was ever given, but Young speculates that there might be movies or TV shows or comments that were critical of China. Blocking of IMDB began about a year after popular sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter also were blocked. Those sites remain blocked.

“The timing is very unusual because typically in the run up to the big Communist Party meeting, they tend to crack down more,” said Young. “They censor more, and things tend to get more heavy handed.”

Access to IMDB in China was first reported in earlier this month by the South China Morning Post, but Young said it’s possible the site may have been unblocked for months.

Young speculated that China’s rulers might be beginning to realize how powerful new media can be.

“The media has become an incredibly powerful tool, with online sleuths that dig up dirt and post pictures,” he said. “The leaders think media, especially new media, is a useful tool for the Communist Party to achieve its objectives like rooting out corruption.”