Cyberdissident Shi Tao is not a Decapitating Murderer: Why Yahoo! Should have been raked over with Hot Coals..
Zhong Guo Middle Kingdom
Someone asked me to comment on an argument that Yahoo! Should not have been "raked over hot coals" due to the fact, abetting in placing journalist Shi Tao in jail for a decade in a Chinese jail is simply "following the law." I think he asked because I was a researcher and consultant on the story for Reporters Without Borders, therefore I feel I must answer to a (indirect non-personal) critic.
The argument go something like this:
If some murderer had put the head of a girl in a box (so pretty!!) it would be morally repugnant yahoo! would hide information and the identity of the perpetrator because it protects one of its customers.
For one that's stupid. No one is raking Yahoo! For helping the Communist government put a serial child murderer in jail. If this was the case Yahoo! would be lauding itself with press releases galore, applauding itself, and bowing to headlines like "Yahoo! solves murder case with small lead on its email!" Accolade will fall and it wouldn't matter if the company helped put that person in jail in Ireland, Hong Kong or Thailand or any far off yahoo offices in the world. Everyone will love Yahoo!
For two Shi Tao has nothing to do with violent crime.
Reporters Without Borders and many of the news stories alluded to one very important fact. Yahoo! Cn shares management with Yahoo! HK whom are not under the jurisdiction of China. The management in Hong Kong who are currently being held responsible were not under the jurisdiction of Chinese law. Not to mention a NASDAQ listed company is under many other bindings outside of the Chinese law. Say for example public opinion and opinions of their share holders in the free world.
China puts dissidents in jail. We know that. Hong Kong companies helping China, when they are not legally bound. We didn't know that. American companies helping China put journalists in jail. We didn't know that, and it's upsetting for many Americans and other people around the world because they believe companies who flourish due to "American Freedoms," should not be helping repressive regimes do their dirty work.
They feel outrage due to a concept called, "Corporate Responsibility," which operates outside the law of any national borders.
Using child labour is "legal" in "some" parts of South East Asia. It's not in America.
Does that mean Nike should be allowed to give children US5 cents
and hour a day to make US$150 sneakers for American children because they were born in a place that's got labour laws?
It is legal to throw unrefined oil down the drain and then execute environmentalists who try to expose and fight against such actions in Nigeria.
Does that mean Shell should have gotten away without a press mention in being the driving force behind "legally" murder three activists?
Groups were able to expose such wretched behavior by getting news organizations to report it. People protested, consumers had the right to change their minds, and those companies were well deserved to find their "Consumer Standing" plummet among socially conscious people around the world.
Underlying those said processes are the tenants of free press,the tenants of free market.
NGOs, journalists, normal human beings can expose and say what they want about a company or a person, a government, or an organization as long as it's true, and the consuming public under the law of demand and supply, pressure groups, public opinions can and is allowed to either reward or punish behavior it likes or don't like.
Arguing against those processes that allowed Yahoo! to be publicly bashed in news organizations around the world is like arguing for the other team, which puts journalists in jail for saying things they don't like.
Not to mention Government are often raked over for violating human rights even if it's LAW in that said country.
Stone a woman to death for having a child out of wedlock make headlines. To hell with the fact it's an ancient tradition and by law of the state as well.
Putting a man in jail for having thoughts that not in line with the government should make headlines because it's a violation of human rights. The government can hide behind the fact it's the "law" of the country. That does not mean it gets a free pass.
People tend not to go around saying, "I don't see why China has to be raked over hot coals because putting Hong Kong journalists in jail by falsely accusing them of spying is right because it's the law of the said country."
In that case why should Yahoo! Not have to suffer the reporting and backlash of a very true action they made because it's the law of the said country?
Human dignity and Freedoms is universal. It cannot and should not be confined to jurisdictions of the state and whims of corporations.
The question should be why are countries and companies not held more accountable in terms of social, environmental, political problems they propagate? NGOs, activists, religious organizations and academics are trying to change that very slowly and with much work..
No one purposely targeted Yahoo! It's the "unfortunate" truth that they were the first to be asked or at least the first to be found out. Sina, goggle, msn, and ALL isps in the world probably will have done the same.
Is it because they truly don't believe in free speech and want to help curb the concept of dissent?
It's because it was the simplest thing to do, and most likely they probably did not even know what the information was going to be used for.
But does that mean they are not responsible for their actions?
Of course not.
Does that mean that NGOs and press don't have the right to expose violations of free speech and human rights or any abdominal behavior if the law allows it? That argument could probably grind the news machine to a screeching halt. Imagine a world where no more outrageous stories of high profile breaks up of celebrities since divorce is legal and adultery is as well?
Shocking! People should not be outrage. It's not against the law!
Not to mention one small press release in conjunction with the follow up of the news media plus public awareness made Chinese Censorship a "hot" story. Propelling a small print "extra" into a front page story. It made people who previously was unaware that American companies are behind "The Great Firewall," know it is going on.
This won't make the CCP free Shi Tao or any of the other cyber dissidents but one thing for sure, with the world's eyes watching it will make all the difference in the treatment of one man in jail.