China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 17 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 17

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

Issue No. 17: April 7, 2011

HIGHLIGHTS
Foreign investors in Chinese media face new rule
Top artist and blogger goes missing
Google facing Chinese tax investigation
Film calling for Tibetan solidarity seized
Beijing pressure yields trial of Vietnamese radio broadcasters

Printable version

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BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
 
Outspoken print journalists dismissed
 
On March 28, Peng Xiaoyun, a former editor at Guangzhou-based Time Weekly, which operates under the state-run Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group, received a formal dismissal notice from her company. The notice did not specify the reason for her firing. Peng had been put on involuntary leave in early January after she published a special report in December called the “Most Influential People of Our Time.” The list apparently angered the authorities by including milk-safety campaigner Zhao Lianhai and Cui Weiping, a signer of the prodemocracy manifesto Charter 08. Also on March 28, Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend commentator Chen Ming, better known as Xiao Shu, announced that his company, Southern Media Group, had put him on a two-year “sabbatical.” The move was considered a forced resignation, as journalists in China can usually be on leave for six months at the most. Chen’s layoff may have been triggered by his frequent writing about sensitive topics such as democratic reforms and the rule of law. His column was removed from print editions in 2009, but it was still available on the paper’s website until last month. The two dismissals come amid a number of other restrictions and pressures on commercialized print outlets known for investigative reporting and pushing the boundaries of permissible speech.
 
* IFEX 4/1/2011: Mainstream journalists also targeted in government’s crackdown <http://www.ifex.org/china/2011/04/01/guangzhou_journalists_dismissed>
* Southern Weekend News (in Chinese): Chen Ming’s column <http://xiaoshu.z.infzm.com>
 
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Foreign investors in Chinese media face new rule
 
China’s General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), which enforces state media regulations, announced on March 31 that all Chinese commercial outlets for books, newspapers, periodicals, and electronic publications will be allowed to form joint ventures with foreign enterprises as of April 1. However, foreign ownership is not permitted for outlets that have more than 30 branches or stores in China, even through indirect equity participation. The amended regulation ensures that domestic investors will retain controlling stakes in China’s media industry.
 
* Legal Daily 4/1/2011 (in Chinese): Foreign investment in Chinese media welcome if China has controlling stake <http://www.legaldaily.com.cn/index_article/content/2011-04/01/content_2563372.htm?node=5955>
 
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Massive new museum minimizes historical atrocities
 
The New York Times reports that the newly reopened National Museum of China in Beijing, whose renovations cost the government nearly $400 million over more than a decade, presents Chinese history in a selective manner to showcase Communist Party triumphs. Senior officials reportedly rejected proposals for exhibitions on traumatic episodes like the Great Leap Forward, a set of Communist Party policies that resulted in widespread famine, killing more than 20 million people. Similarly, the museum addresses the highly destructive Cultural Revolution period with a single photograph and three lines of text, and there is no mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. The museum’s foreign affairs chief, Tian Shanting, said the omissions were “understandable” because the exhibits are meant to celebrate China.
 
* New York Times 4/3/2011: At China’s new museum, history toes party line <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/world/asia/04museum.html>
 
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City authorities censor outdoor advertising
 
On the eve of the Tomb Sweeping Day, which falls on April 5 this year, a man in Chengdu rented a billboard near the city’s highway to seek justice for his wife, who died during a caesarian section in February. The billboard indicated the name of the hospital, which the man believed was responsible for his wife’s death due to negligence. Chengdu’s Industrial and Commercial Bureau said that only advertisements used for commercial purposes required prior approval, but the billboard was nevertheless taken down after eight hours. Separately, in Beijing, the authorities imposed new rules for outdoor advertising. The Administration for Industry and Commerce instructed all advertisers to remove outdoor signs that promote “lavish lifestyles” or “bad political tendencies” by April 15. Reuters said the campaign targeting “hedonistic” content reflected the government’s concerns about growing public anger at the country’s social inequality.
 
* Shanghaiist 4/1/2011: Man blows 150,000 RMB on billboard to seek justice for wife who died in childbirth <http://shanghaiist.com/2011/04/01/man_blows_rmb150000_on_billboard_to.php>
* Reuters 3/24/2011: Chinese capital bans "hedonistic" advertising <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/24/idUSL3E7EO1O220110324>
* Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce 3/15/2011: Regulatory revamp on outdoor advertising <http://www.baic.gov.cn/zwgk/xzgg/201103/t20110317_465602.htm>

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NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
 
Top artist and blogger goes missing
 
Ai Weiwei, a high-profile artist, blogger, and activist perhaps best known for designing the Beijing Olympic stadium, was detained by police at Beijing Capital International Airport on April 3 as he prepared to board a morning flight to Hong Kong. Ai’s assistant, writing on the artist’s Twitter account, said his wife Lu Qing and eight of his staff were visited by the police, who also raided Ai’s studio in Beijing, cut off the power supply, and confiscated Ai’s computers, discs, and notebooks. Although the Chinese authorities have not formally acknowledged Ai’s detention, an editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper warned ominously that Ai had been “close to the red line of Chinese law” for some time and that he would “pay a price for his special choice.” In recent years, Ai has emerged as a potent critic of Beijing’s human rights abuses. After his studio in Shanghai was demolished without notice in January, he said he would stay in China unless the situation became an “absolute threat” to his life. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, the Chinese authorities have detained at least 28 individuals, disappeared more than 30, and put more than 200 under house arrest or police surveillance since a series of messages calling for a protest-driven “Jasmine Revolution” in China started to circulate on the internet in mid-February. U.S. and European government representatives, as well as human rights groups and Chinese netizens, have called for Ai’s release. Freedom House urged U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell to formally request a visit with Ai and five other disappeared individuals during his trip to Beijing on April 7.
 
* Freedom House 4/6/2011: U.S. needs to send strong message to China on human rights <//freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=1383>
* National Public Radio 4/4/2011: China detains dissident artist Ai Weiwei <http://www.npr.org/2011/04/04/135106133/dissident-artist-missing-amid-crackdown-in-china>
* Foreign Policy 4/4/2011: The widening net <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/04/the_widening_net>
* Global Times 4/6/2011 (in Chinese): Law will not concede before maverick <http://news.sina.com.cn/pl/2011-04-06/103922243576.shtml>
 
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‘Disappeared’ activist released after 45 days in isolation
 
On April 3, Liu Anjun, a Beijing-based human rights activist who was detained by police amid online calls for a protest-driven “Jasmine Revolution” in China, was released after 45 days of forced disappearance. Liu is an organizer for Sunlight Public Welfare, a group dedicated to supporting petitioners in Beijing. According to Liu, security personnel detained him on February 18, two days after he gave an interview to Radio Free Asia during which he openly expressed support for the recent revolutions in the Middle East. He said he was locked up in a village and had his mobile telephone taken away. Liu added that his health had deteriorated in custody, and that he planned to seek treatment at a hospital. In a similar case, lawyer Tang Jitian was reportedly released last week after being held incommunicado and tortured since mid-February.
 
* Radio Free Asia 4/4/2011: Jasmine activist released <http://www.rfa.org/english/news/released-04042011160709.html>
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 3/31/2011: Escalating crackdown following call for “Jasmine Revolution” in China <http://chrdnet.org/2011/03/31/escalating-crackdown-following-call-for-%E2%80%9Cjasmine-revolution%E2%80%9D-in-china>
 
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Google facing Chinese tax investigation
 
On March 31, China’s state-run Economic Daily reported that three Chinese firms linked to Google had been punished for breaking local tax rules. According to the report, the U.S. company’s two sub-units, Google Information Technology China and Google Information Technology Shanghai, and its separate business partner, Google Advertising, are under investigation for allegedly submitting forged receipts to evade taxation. Google denied the claim and said it has been in full compliance with Chinese tax law. The technology giant announced in January last year that it would no longer comply with Beijing’s web censorship rules. Despite losing search-engine market share, employees say Google’s ad revenue has continued to rise, as Chinese companies seek to advertise both within China and to audiences abroad. The Chinese authorities have been known to use tax charges to harass local civil society groups, and throughout 2009, Google was the subject of negative, sometimes demonizing, coverage in state-run media. On March 30, China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) reportedly sent a “Level One” propaganda directive instructing all web portals to repost news about Google China’s alleged tax evasion on their front pages for 24 hours.
 
* Washington Post 4/3/2011: Google profile in China shrinking after closure of search engine in censorship dispute <http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/google-profile-in-china-shrinking-after-closure-of-search-engine-in-censorship-dispute/2011/04/03/AFKKocYC_story.html>
* Reuters 3/31/2011: China report claims Google-linked firms broke rules <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/01/us-google-china-idUSTRE72U17M20110401>
* Economic Daily 3/31/2011 (in Chinese): Google’s China subsidiaries face another tax inquiry <http://www.ce.cn/xwzx/gnsz/gdxw/201103/31/t20110331_22337320.shtml>
 
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Chinese authorities make Chinese-Australian writer ‘sick’
 
Yang Hengjun, a Chinese-Australian political commentator and author of spy novels who went missing after his arrival in Guangzhou Baiyun Airport on March 27, called the Australian consulate in Guangzhou on March 31 to give assurances that he had merely been sick. However, on the same day, Yang posted comments on his Twitter account that linked his illness to the Chinese government, apparently using veiled language to indicate that he had been detained by the authorities. Yang refused to provide details of his disappearance, but he said he would try to heal other “sick friends,” even if it required “asking for favor from Zhongnanhai,” the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party. According to the Weekend Australian, a few hours before Yang’s disappearance, a gala launch of his latest book in Beijing had been suddenly canceled.
 
* Australian 4/2/2011: Writer cagey on his China vanishing <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/writer-cagey-on-his-china-vanishing/story-e6frg6nf-1226032276650>
* Yang Hengjun’s Twitter account: <http://twitter.com/yanghengjun>
 
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China’s censors don't fool around on April 1
 
On April 1, April Fools’ Day, a series of satirical headlines poking fun at common social problems in China were posted online by Chinese netizens, and reportedly deleted by censors. One of the pages, hosted by the popular news portal Netease, predicted that civilization would end next year based on the Mayan prophecy featured in the film 2012. The report jokingly said that only Chinese people, strengthened by years of absorbing poisons from tainted food and fake medicine, would survive. Meanwhile, a series of recent media directives allegedly issued by China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) and the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department have been leaked online. On March 30, the SCIO demanded that websites remove articles related to the expansion of the State Supervisor Bureau of Overseas Investment, and stop any discussions “buzzing” about reports that Peking University is planning to screen “radical-minded” students. On March 24, all websites were told to link to two opinion articles that opposed Western military intervention in Libya.
 
* China Digital Times 3/31/2011: Latest directives from the Ministry of Truth: <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/03/latest-directives-from-the-ministry-of-truth-march-24-31-2011>
* Radio Free Asia 4/1/2011: April fool site deleted <http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/fool-04012011155151.html>

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TIBET
 
Film calling for Tibetan solidarity seized
 
The Chinese authorities in the Tibetan town of Gyegu, also known as Yushu, in China’s Qinghai province reportedly confiscated hundreds of DVD copies of Hope in a Disaster, a documentary produced by Buddhist monks that called for Tibetan unity after the earthquake in April 2010. A restaurant in Gyegu was reportedly fined and had its equipment seized after it screened the movie for customers. A monk’s home was searched by the police, who also seized his computer and 3,000 copies of the movie. According to Radio Free Asia, the filmmakers were not detained but have been told not to leave Gyegu. Sources in the region report that 400 to 500 Tibetans signed a petition asking authorities not to arrest the monks who produced the film.
 
* Radio Free Asia 3/31/2011: Tibetan earthquake film seized <http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/film-03312011123112.html>

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BEYOND CHINA
 
Beijing pressure yields trial of Vietnamese radio broadcasters
 
Two Vietnamese citizens, Vu Duc Trung and Nguyen Van Thanh, were scheduled to be put on trial on April 8 in Hanoi in response to apparent pressure from Beijing. The two men set up a shortwave radio station in April 2009 and had been broadcasting programming into China, covering human rights abuses and other news drawn from the Falun Gong–affiliated Sound of Hope radio network. They were arrested in June 2010 and charged with “transmitting information illegally onto the telecommunications network.” Cited in the indictments is a diplomatic memo sent by the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, dated March 5 of last year, which noted the broadcasts and said that “all illegal activities of Falun Gong individuals in the Vietnam territory must be charged and stopped,” adding that their activities could damage Vietnam-China relations. The defendants’ lawyer told AFP that the trial date had been postponed at the last minute, possibly in response to international pressure on their behalf. Trung and Thanh both remain in detention. If convicted, they would face up to five years in jail. The case follows a pattern of Chinese pressure on Southeast Asian nations to curb independent radio broadcasts that are critical of the Communist Party (see CMB No. 15).
 
* Epoch Times 4/5/2011: Two Vietnamese to stand trial for China broadcasts <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/54162>
* Reporters Without Borders 4/5/2011: Two radio station operators to be tried for broadcasting to China <http://en.rsf.org/viet-nam-two-radio-station-operators-to-be-05-04-2011,39961.html>
* Agence France-Presse 4/6/2011: Falungong says two members to be tried in Vietnam <http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/SEAsia/Story/STIStory_653729.html>
 
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New gains for Chinese tech firms in U.S.
 
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei says it is in talks with U.S. government agencies to provide wireless technology for America's first nationwide public-safety network. It is also reportedly a finalist for a contract to build a 4G wireless network for U.S. Cellular Corp., an American wireless carrier. On April 4, several U.S. lawmakers asked the Obama administration to seek a "permanent legislative solution" to stop Huawei's efforts. Despite the company’s denials, its expansion is viewed as a threat to U.S. national security. Much of the concern stems from its strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party, and the fact that Huawei’s founder, Ren Zengfei, is a former Chinese military officer. Meanwhile, U.S. investors appear optimistic about the future growth of Beijing-based Qihoo 360 Technology, China's third most-popular internet company. Qihoo shares soared on their debut on the New York Stock Exchange on March 30. The company claims to be China's leading provider of internet and mobile security products, and is the maker of the second most-popular web browser, after Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
 
* Wall Street Journal4/5/2011: China’s Huawei is finalist for U.S. cellular job <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703712504576243203039296860.html>
* Reuters 3/30/2011: Qihoo 360 shares more than double in NYSE debut <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/30/us-qihoo-ipo-debut-idUSTRE72T3UB20110330>