June 25, 2007

Reading the Tea Leaves [8:12 am]

But making a peculiar extrapolation, IMHO: News Corp.’s China moves a worry in U.S.

Fears that Rupert Murdoch would jeopardize the editorial independence of the Wall Street Journal have been a key sticking point in the News Corp. chairman’s proposed $5-billion takeover of the newspaper’s parent, Dow Jones & Co.

Critics cite as the latest example of those dangers Murdoch’s little-noticed introduction in China of his red-hot MySpace Internet property.

[...] Little attention has been paid in the media to MySpace’s recent expansion in China. Already the fifth-most-visited website in the U.S. and a growing force abroad, the dominant social-networking site launched a Chinese version that analysts said goes out of its way to keep users from discussing topics sensitive to the government.

Before the introduction of MySpace China, which carries the slogan “Friend you, friend me,” mainland residents connected to Beverly Hills-based MySpace.com with the same freedom of expression as users anywhere else.

MySpace.cn, the address of the new local service, allows visitors to use Chinese characters but prevents them from blogging about Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama, Taiwanese independence and many other subjects. Such phrases and searches for those topics are blocked as “inappropriate,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, a journalist and editor of the Danwei.org blog on Chinese media.

[...] Privately, Murdoch lieutenants portrayed MySpace China’s local ownership as a blessing for News Corp., because the parent will be spared from many of the hard decisions that Google and Yahoo have faced.

In other words, MySpace China can please the government without Murdoch getting much heat from outsiders. Officially, News Corp. licenses the MySpace name and software to MySpace China, and is only a minority investor. A key partner in the project is China Broadband Capital Partners, an investment firm run by former telecom executive Edward Tian.

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