The Chinese government worked last year to suppress a news story that exposed poor working conditions in Foxconn's iPod factory, an investigation has revealed.
The allegations are contained in a 17-page report by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Journey to the heart of internet censorship, produced in cooperation with Chinese Human Rights Defenders and an anonymous "Chinese technician working in the internet sector."
It claims tens of thousands of Chinese cyber-police monitor the activity of internet users, and alleges that editors and reporters at leading Chinese news sites are often directed by text message not to write about certain topics or to rely only on certain sources, such as the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
One such case was a story in June 2006 which examined working conditions in the Guangdong province Foxconn factory in which iPods are manufactured.
This story first appeared in the China Business Daily and later in the UK's Daily Mail. The report revealed the plant's predisposition to hire women to work 15-hour days, believing female workers to be more honest and less likely to complain.
Apple took the report seriously enough to launch its own investigation and to enforce certain changes in labour practices at Foxconn's factory.
Foxconn also launched legal action against the journalists behind the report, only to later withdraw that action in an unusual about-face. At the same time as that withdrawal, officials from the Beijing-based Internet Information Administrative Bureau warned Chinese websites via SMS not to publish news on the settlement.
"Do not disseminate reports about the Foxconn case so that it is not exploited by those who want independence to advance their cause," the warning read.
Foxconn is a Taiwanese company.
The Reporters Without Borders report reveals the Beijing-based Internet Information Administrative Bureau summons employees of the 19 leading Beijing-based websites to a meeting at its offices every Friday from 9am to 11am. During the meeting, all those subjects that most interested internet users that week are evaluated and bureau members criticise some sites.
The report says: "Then the bureau members announce the subjects to be covered in the coming week, the articles to be written under their supervision, and the articles to be eliminated."
The report also referred to censorship techniques used to block access to websites, such as keyword blocking, but did not elaborate on what technology might be used to carry out the blocking.