China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 16 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 16

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

Issue No. 16: March 31, 2011

Dozens of activists arrested or disappeared in latest crackdown
Sina removes Google search bar, Baidu plans Chrome competitor
Cyberattacks cripple news website that defied censorship requests
Beijing ignores WTO deadline to lift foreign film quota
China-style online comment manipulation tactics reported in Russia

Printable version


Chinese authorities to scrutinize newspaper bureaus' activities
On March 24, China's General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), which enforces state media regulations, announced that from April 15 to July 25, it will implement a nationwide "Hundred Day Action Campaign." The campaign requires all print media outlets in China to reregister their off-site or regional news bureaus, which will be inspected by provincial GAPP officials. The authorities aim to shut down any bureaus that "function beyond their purpose," "engage in affairs irrelevant to news reporting," and "publish illegal materials." The GAPP also ordered each outlet to list editors' names and duties in its print edition and on its website, along with a telephone number for the public to report complaints. The initiative appeared to be aimed at cracking down on reporting that is not screened by a newspaper's headquarters, where censorship and propaganda directives are primarily enforced. The government has also sought to curb the practice of cross-regional reporting, through which news outlets can expose wrongdoing elsewhere in the country without angering local authorities in their home provinces (See CMB No. 13).
* China Youth Daily 3/25/2011 (in Chinese): Press administration requires reregistration of reporter posts, staff lists <>
Anhui officials admit existence of illegal TV stations
On March 21, in response to recent online rumors alleging that there are more than 1,000 illegal television stations in Anhui province, Yang Jian of the Anhui Administration of Radio, Film, and Television acknowledged the existence of such stations but denied the reported number. Yang said unregistered television channels in Anhui frequently air pirated movies and local performance arts. According to official statistics, Anhui authorities had found 70 illegal stations in 2009, about a threefold increase since 2006. The stations' high degree of mobility and low start-up costs have helped fuel their growth. Most rely on the advertising of unlicensed products for revenue.
* Xinhua 3/22/2011 (in Chinese): Anhui flooded with private illegal TV stations <>


Dozens of activists arrested or disappeared in latest crackdown
Since a series of messages calling for a protest-driven "Jasmine Revolution" in China were circulated on the internet in mid-February, the Chinese government has considerably stepped up its repression of free speech and activism online. Over two dozen people have been detained on criminal charges including "inciting subversion," and at least one blogger who was detained earlier has now been sentenced to 10 years in prison following an unfair trial. Meanwhile, over 30 people have been "disappeared" through presumed extralegal detention, including prominent lawyers and online activists. Lengthy prison sentences are not unusual for certain categories of dissidents in China, such as democracy advocates, Uighurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners. However, the current crackdown has swept up many bloggers, writers, and activists who were previously tolerated, and the latest 10-year sentence has raised fears that those now facing charges could be similarly punished. The following are among the more prominent cases:
- On March 25, Liu Xianbin, a Sichuan-based blogger and democracy advocate, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power" following a blatantly unfair trial at the Suining Intermediate People's Court in Sichuan province. Liu had been detained in June 2010 after he published articles online that called for democratic reforms in China.
- On March 28, Ran Yunfei, prominent Sichuan-based online commentator and magazine editor, was arrested on the charge of "inciting subversion," which will likely lead to prosecution and conviction. Ran was initially detained in February by police officers in Chengdu, who also searched his home and confiscated his computer.
- The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called on Beijing to release prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Gao was detained in 2006 after he published open letters and online articles urging constitutional reform and documenting the torture suffered by Falun Gong practitioners. He resurfaced in March 2010, but disappeared in April of that year after he gave an interview with the Associated Press. Since mid-February, at least five other human rights lawyers-some of whom, such as Teng Biao, operate well-known microblogs on the banned Twitter service-have been abducted and disappeared.
* Reporters Without Borders 3/25/2011: Cyber-dissident gets heavy jail term after unfair trial <,39885.html>
* Reuters 3/28/2011: Prominent Chinese blogger charged as crackdown deepens <>
* New York Times 3/28/2011: U.N. rights group calls on China to release lawyer <>
* Jurist 1/5/2011: Liu Xiaobo's case shows harsh sentencing trend for freedom of expression <>
Sina removes Google search bar, Baidu plans Chrome competitor
The popular Chinese web portal operator Sina Corp. has replaced Google's search bar with its own technology on its mainland China site. Sina's vice general manager, Liu Qi, said the change was made after the company's contract with Google expired in March. The Sina search engine features a variety of categories, including news, blogs, video, and audio files. However, multiple tests run by China Media Bulletin's editors showed that it generates censored results. Google declined to confirm the change, but the company had said in 2010 that it would not be "syndicating censored search to partners in China." As Google's market share slides in China, its competitor Baidu, known for strict compliance with Communist Party censorship demands, plans to develop a fast web-search tool for mobile devices and tablet computers. Baidu chief executive Robin Li told the Financial Times that the feature, tentatively named "Baidu box," could resemble Google's light operating system Chrome OS, and that "the goal is to let people become increasingly dependent on the Baidu box."
* Wall Street Journal 3/28/2011: Sina replaces Google search engine on portal <>
* Financial Times 3/22/2011: Baidu plans operating system for mobiles <>
Chinese-Australian writer goes missing in China
On March 29, the Australian government expressed concern over the safety of Yang Hengjun, a Chinese spy-novel writer and online political commentator who lives in Australia and has been missing since he arrived at China's Guangzhou Airport on March 27. Yang's sister said a telephone call from him had confirmed his detention by security agents. According to the New York Times, Yang frequently comments on the Chinese government's censorship and propaganda practices. In his latest blog entry on the popular Chinese web portal Netease, posted on the day he vanished, Yang criticized Beijing's Peking University over a recent policy that aims to "reeducate" reform-minded students.
* Sydney Morning Herald 3/29/2011: Sino-Australian political blogger vanishes <>
* New York Times 3/30/2011: Australia inquires about a writer missing in China <>
Cyberattacks cripple news website that defied censorship requests
The Sichuan-based web portal Langzhong Hotline, which had posted a notice in which it vowed to "fight official power despite risks of detention, penalty, and website closure," has reportedly been disabled by a series of cyberattacks. On March 7, Langzhong Hotline's discussion forum published the responses of senior Sichuan officials, including the provincial party chief and the governor, to grievances filed by netizens on pollution and land-compensation issues. The site's webmaster, Wang Hao, said he had refused local propaganda officials' requests to remove the postings.
* Ming Pao 3/25/2011 (in Chinese): Sichuan news website vows to 'fight the power' <>
'Illegal' mapping sites and publishers to be shut down
On March 21, China's State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) said it would collaborate this year with 13 other government agencies, including the Chinese Communist Party Central Propaganda Department and the General Administration of Press and Publication, to review "problematic" mapping-service providers. Officials at SBSM said that "for the purpose of preserving China's state sovereignty," the campaign would target both electronic and print-based mapping companies. Websites with sensitive or classified information will be forcibly shut down, and unlicensed printed maps will also be removed from shelves or destroyed. In May 2010, SBSM announced that all mapping-service providers in the country were required to obtain licenses. Google's mapping service in China has been left in limbo since then, as the status of its license application remains unclear.
* Beijing Times 3/22/2011 (in Chinese): Mapping sites to be shut down for posting classified information <>
* Global Times 1/19/2011: China officially launches own online mapping service <>
Baidu apologizes for, and continues to offer, pirated books
Kaiser Kuo, spokesman for the Chinese search-engine giant Baidu, apologized on March 26 after more than 40 authors in China accused the company of infringing on copyrights by providing unauthorized access to their works through its online document-sharing service, Baidu Wenku. About 2.8 million items have been removed from the site as the company seeks to negotiate with authors on future revenue-sharing. Baidu chief executive Robin Li said on March 28 that Baidu Wenku would be shut down if the dispute remains unresolved. However, other pirated works apparently remained accessible. For example, as of that day, the Wall Street Journal reported that the full text of the teen thriller Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was still available on Baidu Wenku and had been downloaded 442 times.
* eWeek 3/30/2011: China's Baidu search engine cracks down on pirated books <>
* Wall Street Journal 3/28/2011: Baidu under fire for copyright infringement <>


Beijing ignores WTO deadline to lift foreign film quota
On March 19, China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) ignored a deadline set by the World Trade Organization to eliminate the country's annual quota of 20 foreign films. They are released through the state-run China Film Group and have accounted for about 45 percent of China's box-office revenues. Chinese filmmakers said the quota system helps local producers compete with "the inevitable Hollywood invasion" and also preserve a "national film identity." Many observers expect China to raise the import cap to 30 films rather than dropping it entirely. Teng Jimeng, professor of film at the Beijing Language and Culture University, said the government can create other barriers by placing foreign films in unpopular time slots or by issuing political directives to theaters.
* Guardian 3/24/2011: Will the great film quota wall of China come down? <>
Twitter cofounder rules out compromise on Chinese censorship
On March 24, Biz Stone, cofounder of the U.S.-based microblogging service Twitter, admitted that the company will eventually need to engage with China, where it is currently banned. However, he said Twitter seeks to operate in the Chinese market without compromising its dedication to the free exchange of information, which, he added, "is not China's philosophy." Along with the social-networking site Facebook, Twitter has been inaccessible in China since an outbreak of ethnic violence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in July 2009. However, it remains popular among Chinese activists, who gain access to it through circumvention tools.
* IDG News 3/24/2011: Twitter won't be able to ignore China, co-founder says <>
China-style online comment manipulation tactics reported in Russia
Bloggers in Russia have reportedly uncovered evidence that Russian officials are hiring users to post progovernment comments, a practice resembling the Chinese Communist Party's use of paid commentators, who are dubbed the "Fifty-Cent Party" for their supposed per-comment fees. The Russian bloggers cited a posting on the career website that sought five people who would "leave 70 comments a day from 50 different accounts" in exchange for about $400 a month. The author of the advertisement specified that the aim is to shape a "positive image" of the ruling United Russia party and "form a negative attitude" toward the author of the targeted blog. The ad stressed that those hired must "create the maximum believable wave of comments" and make each new posting persuasive.
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 3/23/2011: Russia's 30-Ruble army <>
Nonprofit TV station broadcasts uncensored news to China
New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), a New York–based station that broadcasts news to China from a satellite operated by Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom Company, is attempting to bring change to China with limited resources and a mostly volunteer staff. NTDTV executive vice president Samuel Zhou told Reuters that although it was established by Falun Gong practitioners, the station has no agenda other than delivering uncensored information to the Chinese public. Programming includes the satirical Mainland News Dissector, a call-in show named Focus Talk, and another program called China Forbidden News. Zhou said that about one million people in China reportedly visit the station's website each month by using circumvention tools. NTDTV also broadcasts 24-hour news in the United States to counter channels that rebroadcast material from the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV). According to Reuters, the Chinese-American television market consists of about 3.8 million to 6 million viewers. In recent years, the station has run into challenges, as the Chinese government has scared off some potential sponsors and successfully pressured the French satellite company Eutelsat to stop carrying NTDTV's signal.
* Reuters 3/21/2011: TV channel trying to change China from New York <>
* Reporters Without Borders 7/10/2010: European satellite operator Eutelsat suppresses independent Chinese language TV station NTDTV to satisfy Beijing <,27818>


U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission: Chinese foreign propaganda efforts
On March 10, Professor Ashley Esarey of Whitman University testified at a hearing held by the U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission, titled "China's Narratives Regarding National Security Policy." The testimony outlines the Chinese Communist Party's plans for and initial implementation of foreign propaganda efforts, as well as both the human and financial resources devoted to this goal. Such efforts are aimed at improving the party's capacity to "repackage" China's global brand and alter its international image as a "media censor" and human rights violator.
* U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission 3/10/2011: China's Narratives Regarding National Security Policy <>