Last week, publishing giant Springer Nature pulled down around 1000 articles from its Chinese website since these articles touched upon topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese authorities. This move has sparked several discussions about academic freedom and some academics are not in favor of the enforced censorship.
China is known to have strict regulations on publicly available news and information. To comply with the laws of the Chinese government, Springer Nature filtered out the content pertaining to discussions on Taiwan, Tibet, politics, and such other sensitive topics. Several academics have expressed shock over the publisher’s decision to take a step that seems to affront academic freedom.
Defending their actions, the publisher issued a statement that: “This action is deeply regrettable but has been taken to prevent a much greater impact on our customers and authors. [...] It is a local content access decision in China done to comply with specific local regulations.” Further, Springer Nature clarified that only about one percent of their content is inaccessible.
In a similar incident, Cambridge University Press had to remove around 300 articles in August 2017; these articles were related to sensitive topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and the Cultural Revolution. However, they reversed the decision following severe criticism by several academics.
Following the Springer Nature incident, the State Council Information Office of China stated that: “All publications imported into the Chinese market must accord with Chinese laws and regulations. The publications’ import management company is responsible for carrying out content checks on publications.” Responding to the censorship issue, International Publishers Association president Michiel Kolman said that he would attempt to persuade Springer Nature to review their decision. “The availability of new ideas and knowledge is key to the advancement of science and an important principle in a world where research and academic collaboration is increasingly global,” Kolman said.
It remains to be seen whether Springer Nature reverses its move and if more publishers are forced to censor their content as per the Chinese government’s laws.
What is your take on this? Is this academic censorship? Or is this merely an issue of compliance with a nation’s regulations?