China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 14
A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
Issue No. 14: March 17, 2011
* People's Daily' recycles front page for congress session
* Gmail, VPN users in China encounter access problems
* Netizens detained after 'Jasmine Revolution' tweets
* Facebook shuts down Chinese blogger's account
* Fraudulent e-mails aim to undermine overseas dissent
'People's Daily' recycles front page for congress session
The March 14 front page of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece People's Daily, which covered the closing ceremony of the annual National People's Congress (NPC) session, appeared identical to that from the previous year. The ordinal number of the NPC session was changed, but the sub-headlines, the names of top attendees and hosts, and the angles of photographs remained the same. Messages posted by netizens on popular Chinese web forums that encouraged others to find the differences were reportedly removed. The Wall Street Journal commented that rather than laziness, the incident was a reflection of the warped incentives within China's propaganda apparatus: "There are few points given for creativity, while mistakes can be punished harshly," particularly when top leaders are involved. (See link below for images of the two front pages.)
* Wall Street Journal 3/15/2011: People's Daily on China's NPC: Two years, two editions, one front page? <http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/03/15/china-npc-people%E2%80%99s-daily-two-years-two-editions-one-front-page>
* People's Daily 3/14/2011: Front page <http://online.wsj.com/media/crt_rmrb2011_E_20110314083243.jpg>
* People's Daily 3/14/2010: Front page <http://online.wsj.com/media/crt_rmrb2010_E_20110314083008.jpg>
Propaganda directives on congress coverage leaked
A series of media directives allegedly issued by China's State Council Information Office (SCIO) and the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department in March have been leaked online. The SCIO reportedly demanded that coverage of the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference must reflect the meetings' spirit of "democracy and reform" and use only articles from the state news agency Xinhua to report on delegates' proposals. The SCIO also asked news outlets not to discuss Beijing's increased police presence during the session. Websites are instructed to "meticulously propagandize" about the meeting and "fully employ the capabilities of internet media" to do so, including through special columns, animations, and interactive multimedia features. Other items unrelated to the meetings included directives to limit reporting on claims that Liu Zhijun, a former railways minister who is being investigated on serious corruption charges, had 18 mistresses. On March 2, the Central Propaganda Bureau also announced a ban on coverage of attempts to foment a pro-democracy "Jasmine Revolution" protest movement in China. Searches conducted by China Media Bulletin's editors indicate that articles on the protest calls and related police assaults on foreign correspondents in Beijing have been removed from the archives of China's state-run and commercial news outlets.
* China Digital Times 3/14/2011: Latest directives from the Ministry of Truth <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/03/latest-directives-from-the-ministry-of-truth-march-2-7-2011>
People's Congress delegate calls for ad-free state TV
On March 7, Fang Ming, a delegate to the National People's Congress (NPC) and an anchor at state-run China National Radio, suggested banning commercial advertisements from the state television broadcaster CCTV 1, calling them "vulgar." Using the regional station Chongqing Satellite Television as an example, Fang said at an NPC session that ad-free news channels would help promote the "public good." According to Fang, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun, who was also at the meeting, had already asked the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) to draft regulations governing the broadcasting of television commercials. Chongqing Satellite Television this month removed all commercial ads and cut back on drama series, replacing them with CCP propaganda pieces. While Fang and other officials have sought to draw parallels between their initiative and respected public broadcasters such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Japan's NHK, the latter outlets are known for editorial independence, whereas the Chongqing station and CCTV are tightly controlled by the party leadership. Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan said the pro-CCP ad campaign, which is reportedly subsidized by the city government, would cause the television station to lose 300 million yuan ($45 million) in ad revenue.
* China Media Project 3/8/2011: Will Chinese television go "red?" <http://cmp.hku.hk/2011/03/08/10725>
* Jinhua Daily 3/8/2011 (in Chinese): NPC delegate proposes banning commercials on CCTV 1 and local TV stations <http://news.qq.com/a/20110308/000133.htm>
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Chinese cities in race to build surveillance systems
On March 9, Beijing's Municipal Bureau of Culture said it would establish a system combining audio and video monitoring of entertainment venues in the capital, including cinemas, theaters, and clubs. The timetable for the project has not been set. While the authorities claimed it was for security and safety purposes, the plan raised concerns about increased self-censorship among artists and musicians known for subtly and creatively pushing the boundaries of permissible expression. Meanwhile, on March 7, Chongqing police chief Wang Zhijun announced that his city would have the world's largest security system by 2012. He said 500,000 surveillance cameras would be installed, enabling authorities and emergency services to share video feeds for crime prevention. Human rights groups have argued that such cameras, combined with face-recognition software, could also be used to identify and punish dissident activities, such as the circulation of underground leaflets.
* Agence France-Presse 3/8/2011: SW China mega-city building huge security system <http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hJkDNmTWxi-exz2kkhIoUZDuPYbw?docId=CNG.94f20013cdd393d22cb9d0a563a113f9.8d1>
* Global Times 3/10/2011: Entertainment venues to be put under surveillance <http://beijing.globaltimes.cn/society/2011-03/631975_2.html>
Gmail, VPN users in China encounter access problems
In recent weeks, users of Google's Gmail e-mail service have increasingly complained of poor access in China. According to company spokeswoman Christine Chen, Gmail was experiencing no technical difficulties, which suggested that the obstacle was being imposed by the Chinese government. Beijing-based media analyst Bill Bishop said access problems with Gmail might lead Chinese users to switch to more tightly controlled domestic alternatives, which "could mark a new tactic to disrupt services without blocking a site completely." Chinese web users have also reported difficulties with virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow them to circumvent government censors. On March 10, U.S.-based VPN provider Witopia advised netizens to avoid using its live support service due to a massive volume stemming from "China shenanigans." China's censorship system is much tighter and more sophisticated than in most other countries, making circumvention relatively difficult, though it is still possible for tech-savvy users with advanced tools.
* PCWorld 3/14/2011: Gmail disruption in China could signal tighter control <http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/222019/gmail_disruption_in_china_could_signal_tighter_control.html>
* Bloomberg BusinessWeek 3/10/2011: China 'shenanigans' hindering web users from evading censors, Witopia says <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-11/china-shenanigans-hinder-censor-evading-users-witopia-says.html>
Netizens detained after 'Jasmine Revolution' tweets
The authorities have detained several netizens for disseminating information about online calls for a pro-democracy "Jasmine Revolution" protest movement in China. Wei Qiang, a netizen in Beijing, was detained on March 2 after he used his Twitter microblogging account to report from the Wangfujing shopping district, where protesters have been encouraged to meet in the online appeals. On March 5, Zhu Yufu, a Hangzhou-based activist, was taken away by police, who also confiscated his computers. Earlier, on February 25, Shanghai-based netizen Leira Hua had revealed via Twitter a fascinating account of a conversation with three National Security Bureau officers, who visited her to "drink tea." According to Hua, the officers came with photocopies of her microblog postings, including a forwarded call to stroll and smile in Shanghai's People's Square as a subtle form of protest. She said the officers appeared "stumped" when she asked what laws prevented people from strolling. Upon departing, they warned that they would be back again.
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 3/8/2011: China Human Rights Briefing Weekly <http://chrdnet.org/2011/03/09/china-human-rights-briefing-march-1-8-2011>
* China Digital Times 3/11/2011: Drinking tea and discussing the Jasmine Revolution: a Twitter report <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/03/drinking-tea-and-discussing-the-jasmine-revolution-a-twitter-report>
Online study club organizers released after 10 years
On March 12, former reporter Xu Wei and writer Jin Haike were released from prison in Beijing after serving 10 years for "subversion of state power." They reportedly suffered from physical and psychological problems due to their confinement. The two were detained in 2001 after organizing an informal student club called New Youth Study Group, through which members discussed political reform and occasionally posted essays on the internet. Two other members were sentenced to eight years in prison. At the time of their sentencing, the oldest of the group was 28. Joshua Rosenzweig of the U.S.-based rights group Dui Hua Foundation said the study group case was "one of the earlier cases that involved subversion charges over online political discussions." An in-depth Washington Post article from 2004 describes the process that eventually led to their arrest, including the Ministry of State Security's recruitment of one group member to report on the others' activities.
* Human Rights in China 3/14/2011: Reform advocates Jin Haike and Xu Wei released after 10-year imprisonment <http://www.hrichina.org/public/contents/press?revision_id=192994&item_id=192993>
* Washington Post 4/23/2004: A study group is crushed in China's grip <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2004/04/23/AR2005040206572_pf.html>
Party news website plans stock listing in Shanghai
On February 28, Reuters reported that People.com.cn, the website of the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, will be listed on Shanghai's stock exchange in June, making it the first online news organization in China to be traded in the domestic stock market. In January, the company revealed that it had reached deals with investors, such as the state-owned telecommunications companies China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom Corporation, with the hope of raising 800 million yuan ($121.8 million) in the initial stock offering.
* Reuters 3/7/2011: China state newspaper's web portal eyes June IPO <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/07/us-ipo-idUSTRE7260KA20110307>
* MarketWatch 1/4/2011: People's Daily Online plans Shanghai IPO <http://www.marketwatch.com/story/peoples-daily-online-plans-shanghai-ipo-2011-01-04>
Market for Hong Kong VPN providers expanding
As more netizens in China seek access to banned social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or uncensored services like Google's search engine, the market for virtual private networks (VPNs) is growing in Hong Kong. VPNs, one of several methods for circumventing censorship, allow a user to create an encrypted tunnel between his or her computer and the provider's server, from which connections can then be made to access various websites. According to the South China Morning Post, VPN providers in Hong Kong are cheaper than their U.S. counterparts, and their data transfers are faster because of the semiautonomous territory's proximity to mainland China. While it is illegal for Chinese companies to offer VPN services, Hong Kong Internet Society chairman Charles Mok says "many internet users on the mainland use [VPNs]. Authorities just turn a blind eye."
* South China Morning Post 3/15/2011: HK firms help mainlanders get around the 'Great Firewall' <http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=eb513c0fc74be210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=Hong+Kong&s=News>
Facebook shuts down Chinese blogger's account
On March 8, prominent Chinese blogger and journalist Zhao Jing, better known as Michael Anti, said in an interview with the Associated Press that the U.S.-based social-networking site Facebook had deleted his account in January for violating its "real-name policy." Zhao frequently publishes articles as Michael Anti, a pseudonym he has been using for more than a decade. As the Chinese government continues its crackdown on freedom of expression, Zhao argued that using real names on Facebook could "potentially put Chinese citizens in danger." Facebook itself is officially blocked in China, and Chinese users must employ circumvention tools to access it. The closing of Zhao's account has cut him off from a network of more than 1,000 contacts and deprived them of access to a quick, reliable source of information about on-the-ground developments in China. It remains unclear whether Zhao's use of a pseudonym was first brought to the attention of Facebook by someone associated with the Chinese government. In 2007, Zhao's blog on the hosting provider MSN Spaces, owned by the U.S.-based firm Microsoft, was removed following pressure from Beijing.
* Committee to Protect Journalists 3/9/2011: Michael Anti's exile from Facebook over 'real-name policy' <http://www.cpj.org/internet/2011/03/michael-antis-exile-from-facebook-over-real-name-p.php>
* RConversation 1/3/2006: Microsoft takes down on Chinese blogger <http://rconversation.blogs.com/rconversation/2006/01/microsoft_takes.html>
China-based cyberattacks, Huawei expansion raise U.S. security concerns
On March 10, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate panel that China's growing cyberwarfare capabilities are a "formidable concern." While it remains unclear who has been directing the recent surge in cyberattacks on Western governments and companies, Clapper noted that China has a "very large organization" devoted to online intelligence-gathering. Meanwhile, William Xu, president of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, recently admitted that the company has encountered challenges in the United States, where lawmakers view its efforts to supply fixed-line and mobile-telephone infrastructure as a threat to national security. Much of the concern stems from the company's strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the fact that Huawei's founder, Ran Zengfei, is a former Chinese military officer. Huawei is currently the world's second-largest vendor of telecommunications equipment, after Sweden's Ericsson.
* British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) 3/11/2011: China cyber-warfare capability a 'formidable concern' <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12709417>
* Financial Times 3/8/2011: Huawei targets corporate sector <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/f78aea42-49b1-11e0-acf0-00144feab49a,dwp_uuid=9c33700c-4c86-11da-89df-0000779e2340.html#axzz1GJcjSkcC>
Fraudulent e-mails aim to undermine overseas dissent
In recent months, elected officials in the United States, New Zealand, and Australia have reportedly received fraudulent e-mail messages from senders claiming to be adherents or representatives of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. The messages appear to be part of an effort to discredit the group among Western politicians. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, on January 12, a U.S. senator's office received a bizarre message containing threatening demands from someone posing as Falun Gong spokesperson Erping Zhang. Tracing of the sender's internet protocol (IP) address showed that the message had originated in a server in Wuhan city, Hubei province. In February, several officials in New Zealand received a similarly disguised e-mail message discussing the recent Christchurch earthquake in an offensive manner. Editors of China Media Bulletin have obtained details of another set of unusual messages sent in mid-March to Parliament members in Australia, also apparently from China. The Chinese Communist Party is known to use a variety of tactics to obstruct the efforts of Chinese democracy activists, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Uighurs, and others to expose human rights abuses and gain international support for their causes. These have ranged from contacting Western officials and asking them to cancel or boycott an event, to robust cyberattacks against overseas websites and activists' e-mail lists.
* Falun Dafa Information Center 3/10/2011: Chinese agents send fraudulent Falun Gong e-mails to Western governments <http://faluninfo.net/article/1122>
* Epoch Times 3/4/2011: New Zealand earthquake: e-mail uses Christchurch earthquake to attack group <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/52411>