US author says China media can’t cover Google book

A writer for The New Yorker no longer plans to promote his new book about Google during a China visit after being warned the media are restricted from writing about the company, which angered the government by moving its search engine off the mainland to avoid censorship.

In a phone interview late Wednesday, Ken Auletta said the book’s China-based publisher told him his visit next month no longer made sense, because even if Chinese media show up for his events, they won’t be able to report anything.

E-mails from Auletta’s publishing contacts for the China book, seen Wednesday by The Associated Press, point out the restrictions with concern.

“It’s disappointing, not to mention outrageous,” Auletta said. He said he wouldn’t know where to begin to appeal to the Chinese government. “It sounds like a faceless decision. It doesn’t sound like one person you appeal to … It just sounds like ‘1984.’”

Auletta’s book, “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It,” came out in the U.S. last fall, and a Chinese publisher bought the rights.

But that was before Google kicked off a tussle with the Chinese government in January, threatening to shut down its China-based search engine unless the Communist Party loosened its restrictions on free speech.

Google then moved its search engine last month to the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, a former British colony with broader legal and political freedoms.

Since then, reporters and editors for China’s state-run media have said they’ve been restricted in what they write about Google, being told to treat the company’s move as a business dispute and to paint Google’s motives as political.

“The Chinese government recently asked the media not to report anything regarding Google … It is not likely that they can report the author’s visit and the book at this sensitive time,” said an e-mail Tuesday from Jian-Mei Wang with the Bardon-Chinese Media Agency to Betsy Robbins, Auletta’s agent outside the United States.

Another e-mail Tuesday to Robbins from Li Yinghong with the state-owned China Citic Press said, “We heard from local media who had interest in interviewing the author the local authorities don’t like any news and reports about Google at such time due to the company’s decision of exit of Chinese market.”

Li, reached by phone Wednesday night, said he couldn’t comment.

A man answering phones for the propaganda department of the Communist Party late Wednesday said his office didn’t know about any media restrictions on covering Google. He didn’t give his name, as is common with Chinese officials.

Auletta said he didn’t know whether this means his book won’t be published in China at all.

The book includes an account of Google agreeing to censor its search results in China, and how uncomfortable co-founder Sergey Brin was with the decision. The book describes a 2008 meeting where a shareholder proposed that Google abandon China unless it stopped censoring the search engine. The move almost passed but for one abstention, from Brin himself.

Auletta said there had been no mention of cutting such details out of the book’s Chinese edition. “This is the first inkling I’ve gotten of any problem with the book in China,” he said.

Auletta already had his visa for what will be his first trip to China and still plans to visit Shanghai for other reasons in May, he said.

Associated Press