Xeni's LAT op-ed: war, blogs, news, and profit.

Snip from an opinion piece I wrote for this Sunday's Los Angeles Times.

[A]s the 37-year-old married reporter behind the numeric pseudonym "198964" learned, he shouldn't have assumed that Yahoo defends press freedom. When Chinese security agents asked executives at Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) to identify the man, they did so. Police grabbed him on a street, searched his house and seized his computer and other belongings, according to documents filed in his defense.

Mr. "198964," whose real name is Shi Tao, is serving a 10-year jail sentence for "divulging state secrets abroad." Bloggers, human rights groups and journalism organizations, including PEN and Reporters Without Borders, condemned the action.

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang brushed off responsibility. At an Internet conference Sept. 10 in Hangzhou, China, Yang said Yahoo and other U.S.-based multinationals "have to comply with local law."

Or else what? They lose access, that's what, which means losing profits.

Shi Tao's attorney, Guo Guoting – who was detained, placed under house arrest and shut out of his office before his client's trial – argues that the company has a greater obligation to international law than to local law. "China is a signatory of the [U.N.] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights," Guo told the Hong Kong independent daily Epoch Times. "Shi Tao … was legitimately practicing his profession, not committing a crime. The legal entity of Yahoo Holdings [Hong Kong] is not in China, so it is not obligated to operate within the laws of China or to cooperate with Chinese police."

As morally repugnant as Yahoo's actions may be, other tech vendors before it have acted similarly. "Many big companies, such as Microsoft and Nortel, in their quest to gain shares of the large Internet market in China, transform China into an information prison by collaborating with the Chinese regime on questions of censorship," Guo said. "They should not forget all moral principles under the temptation of financial gain."

Yahoo's hypocrisy is even more shameful because it is also in the news business. The company recently opened a news production division with promises of hard-hitting stories that U.S. mainstream media are afraid to report.

Yahoo launched "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone," pledging to send the former television reporter to "every armed conflict in the world within one year" and dispatch blog-sized "bites" of war.

Link to "Battle blogging for profit."

Image: A photo of Shi Tao. I think it's good for each of us to try and remember that behind aliases like the Yahoo account "198964", there are people not unlike ourselves.