China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 1 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 1

A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China

Issue No. 1: November 29, 2010

* Censorship and propaganda on Nobel Prize continue
* Chinese government-friendly search engine going global
* Netizen sent to labor camp for Twitter message
* Shanghai blogger conference canceled
* Indonesian radio station regains license amid Chinese interference

Printable version


Tainted-milk activist jailed for two and a half years
On November 10, Zhao Lianhai, a former journalist whose son suffered from kidney stones after drinking tainted milk produced by the Chinese dairy company Sanlu in 2008, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “disturbing social order.” Zhao had been convicted for accepting interviews by foreign journalists, holding a protest sign, and launching a website for aggrieved parents. The website served as a clearinghouse of information for parents of affected babies, and Zhao had encouraged some to file civil lawsuits for compensation. In 2008, six children died and 300,000 fell ill after they consumed melamine-tainted milk produced by Sanlu and over 20 other companies. According to the International Federation of Journalists, there is no official ban but media outlets in China have been self-censoring reports on Zhao’s imprisonment.
* IFJ 11/15/2010: Former journalist jailed for accepting media interviews in China <>
* New York Times 11/10/2010: China sentences activist in milk scandal to prison <>
Latest official censorship instructions leaked online
In early November, a list of censorship directives issued by the Chinese authorities-covering incidents such as business scandals and official misconduct- was leaked by anonymous sources and distributed online. The primary subject cited for banning was the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, which all radio and TV stations inside China have been strictly forbidden to air. The government continues to ban reporting on the October death of college student Chen Xiaofeng in a hit-and-run accident caused by Li Qiming, the son of a police chief in Hebei province. Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV’s interview with Chen’s brother was immediately censored by the Propaganda Bureau. Despite such efforts, news of the incident spread online, with the term “My Father is Li Gang” becoming the focus of a series of sarcastic entries critiquing official abuse of power. David Bandurski, a media expert at the University of Hong Kong, says censorship is becoming increasingly unpopular in China, as indicated by officials’ sense that “they have to keep the guidelines themselves under wraps.”
* China Digital Times 11/7/2010: Latest directives from the Ministry of Truth, October 22-November 7 <>
* New York Times 11/17/2010: China’s censors misfire in abuse-of-power case <>
Chinese state media call Liu Xiaobo a “criminal”
According to Radio Free Asia, Beijing has intensified its approach to controlling international public opinion on Liu Xiaobo. Chinese official commentaries have compared Liu’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize to “racial hatred in other jurisdictions, or with plotting to dethrone Britain’s Queen Elizabeth or assassinate President Obama.”
* Radio Free Asia 11/11/2010: Exit bans for Liu supporters <>
Communist Party journal objects to end of press censorship
On November 1, Seeking Truth (Qiushi), a Chinese Communist Party-run journal, published an article that rejects the recent calling for press freedom by 23 senior party members, including Hu Jiwei, former editor in chief of the People’s Daily. Using the dissolution of the Soviet Union as an example, the article argues that privatization of media ownership and abandoning the jamming of Western media outlets will disintegrate control over public opinion, undermine Communist Party legitimacy, and eventually lead to “national collapse.”
* China Media Project 11/2/2010: Lose public opinion and we lose it all <>
* Seeking Truth (Qiushi, in Chinese) 11/1/2010: Public opinion out of control: Disintegration of Soviet Union <>

Chinese government-friendly search engine going global
Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, the most popular search engine in China, recently announced that the company is planning to market Baidu abroad by focusing on e-commerce projects. Non-Chinese internet users will likely be hesitant to embrace the China-based company, which rigorously follows official censorship guidelines. Li said, “If [Chinese] law clearly prohibits certain types of information…then I’m sure there is a reason for it.” Of censorship broadly, he added that he is an entrepreneur, not a politician. In response, internet analyst Rebecca MacKinnon said, “It’s going to be very difficult for any Chinese companies that deal with content to get anyone to trust them outside of China.
* Bloomberg Businessweek 11/11/2010: How Baidu won China <>
Netizen sent to labor camp for Twitter message
On November 17, 46-year-old Cheng Jianping was sentenced without trial to one year in the Shibali River labor camp in Henan province. She was punished for sending a Twitter message that mocked anti-Japanese nationalists by jokingly suggesting they attack the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. According to the New York Times, Cheng was detained in August 2009 after she openly expressed sympathy for Liu Xianbin, a Chinese democracy advocate. The incident highlights the Chinese authorities’ efforts to intimidate netizens who express themselves openly on Twitter, which is blocked in China but accessed by tens of thousands of users via circumvention tools.
* New York Times 11/18/2010: Chinese woman imprisoned for Twitter message <>  
Shanghai blogger conference canceled
The annual Chinese Blogger Conference, which was scheduled to take place in Shanghai on November 20, was canceled due to pressure from the Chinese authorities. Organizers said the planned hosts, owners of an office building near Shanghai Jiaotong University, were forced to reject usage of the venue for the event. The conference’s homepage was stripped of content, with a message saying “Website Suspended,” shortly after the site announced the cancelation and attributed it to “well-known reasons.” Isaac Mao, cofounder of the conference, said the pressure was upsetting but noted that the participants could “still find ways to gather in smaller groups.”
* Wall Street Journal 11/21/2010: China blogger conference cancelled under pressure <>
* South China Morning Post 11/20/2010: Conference of bloggers can’t find a venue <>
Circumvention tool extends Chinese access to information
Since 2002, Silicon Valley-based programmer Alan Huang and a group of Falun Gong-practicing engineers at places ranging from Microsoft to NASA have been devoting their spare time to developing circumvention tools like UltraSurf. Used by millions of web users in China and elsewhere, they provide access to foreign news sites and social networking applications without leaving records of users’ activities. UltraSurf’s user base expands every time a significant social event takes place in China, such as the 2003 SARS outbreak or the Tibetan uprising in 2008.
* Wired 11/1/2010: Digital weapons help dissidents punch holes in China’s great firewall <>
3G Kindle, a surprise to Chinese netizens
The 3G model of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which Chinese customers could get through Chinese online shopping sites, reportedly allows internet access to blocked webpages inside China. “It was like tasting a forbidden fruit, I felt really excited the first time I tried it,” said a Chinese user interviewed by the state-run Global Times who had logged on to Twitter and Facebook. Lawrence Kwang of the University of Hong Kong said that since every Kindle device is pre-registered to a personal account, the Chinese government can still trace each user’s information. Lu Benfu, director of the Internet Development Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Science, predicted that the device would be subject to stricter controls once it is officially released on the mainland.
* Global Times 11/5/2010: Amazon’s Kindle allows access to blocked sites <>

Hong Kong reporters barred from Asian Games
Reporters from the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, which is known for its sensational writing, investigative reporting, and critical coverage of the Chinese government, have not received approval from the Olympic Council of Asia to cover the 16th Asian Games opening ceremony on November 12 in Guangzhou. “The Chinese regime’s behavior towards Apple Daily has overshadowed the Games and is part of its practice of suppressing dissent,” said Mak Ying-ting, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalist Association. In May, Apple Daily reporters were barred from attending the Shanghai World Expo.
* Epoch Times 11/11/2010: Hong Kong’s Apple Daily likely to miss Asian Games <>  

Parody of election campaign video stirs online debate in Taiwan
On October 28, Taiwanese netizen “Kuso Cat” produced a parody version of a campaign video that features two twin sisters singing and dancing to express their support for Jason Hu, the incumbent mayor of Taichung city of Taiwan. He is seeking another term in upcoming municipal elections on November 27. The parody version, which splices in news clips about Taichung's sex industry, has led to a heated debate over cyberbullying. The mayor's office has asked local prosecutors to investigate the case. On November 2, a press statement issued by the Taichung District Prosecutors Office said that no law appeared to have been broken. However, under a proposed Personal Data Protection Act, scheduled to take effect in early 2011, such actions could be subject to high fines in the future.
* 11/1/2010: Video hack infuriates Taiwanese city mayor <
Taiwan’s Ministry of Education urges university discussion forum to manage online speech
On October 21, National Taiwan University received a notice from the Ministry of Education requesting that the administration increase management of content on the school’s online bulletin board, where students and staff post comments, including those of a political nature. According to the Taipei Times, the notice specially asked that “political staffers who try to ‘manipulate’ Netizens’ opinions on the board be removed from what it called ‘an educational network.’” Students and netizens criticized the request and called for the resignation of Minister of Education Wu Ching-ji. Wu denied that the notice was a violation of freedom of speech. He described the ministry’s move as a “friendly reminder.”
* Taipei Times 11/4/2010: Notice from Ministry sparks outrage <
Indonesian radio regains broadcasting rights amid Chinese interference 
On October 5, Radio Era Baru, an Indonesian affiliate of the Falun Gong-related Sound of Hope radio station, won a ruling at the State Administrative Court that allows it to broadcast temporarily, pending an upcoming final decision by the Supreme Court. Era Baru, which frequently reports on human rights abuses in China, said the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta had warned Indonesian officials that allowing the radio station to air its programming risked damaging China-Indonesia relations. The Indonesian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology subsequently denied the radio station a broadcasting license in 2007. In September 2009, it transferred Era Baru’s frequency to Sing FM. Members of the European Parliament and Reporters Without Borders have appealed to the Indonesian authorities on the station’s behalf, urging that Era Baru’s broadcasting rights be fully respected.
* NTDTV 10/16/2010: Press freedom win – Indonesian radio regains broadcasting license <>