China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 18 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 18

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

Issue No. 18: April 14, 2011

Weekly business magazine shut down
Scattershot allegations follow artist-blogger Ai Weiwei's detention
Facebook mulls adding Baidu as a friend
Bob Dylan is no rebel in front of CCP
Taiwan artists express support for Ai

Printable version



Foreign journalist detained at church gathering

On April 10, Bill Schiller, the Toronto Star's Asia bureau chief, was detained and interrogated for three hours in Beijing after he took photographs at an unauthorized outdoor church service in the city's Zhongguancun district. More than 150 members of the Shouwang Protestant Church were also rounded up by the authorities; the church operates without government approval and has been barred from buying or renting space in which to worship. Schiller said he was asked to delete pictures from his camera, and had his government-issued press card confiscated. The police claimed he had conducted interviews in public without permission, a rule has been more strictly enforced since calls for a protest-driven "Jasmine Revolution" circulated on the internet in mid-February. Schiller's account of his experience, which comes amid a broader crackdown on journalists, bloggers, and other activists, adds to existing evidence that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has redefined the limits of permissible expression in the country, while resorting to extralegal tactics to suppress dissent. Zhou Yongkang, a CCP Politburo Standing Committee member who oversees the country's law enforcement bodies, is said to be one of the driving forces behind the current crackdown, including the recent disappearances of Chinese dissidents.

* Toronto Star 4/11/2011: Star reporter detained, interrogated by Chinese police for taking photo <>
* Wall Street Journal 4/11/2011: China's crackdown signals shift <>


Weekly business magazine shut down

The weekly Business Watch Magazine, published by the Economic Information Research Institute of Xiamen, a state-sponsored think tank in Fujian province, announced that it would be permanently discontinued after April 1. The news magazine, launched in 2000, had been suspended for a month in 2010 by the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) after it discussed state electricity monopolies in a report titled "The Empire of the National Power Grid" in its March 5, 2010, issue. Officials claimed that it had violated regulations by disclosing protected government information and fabricating stories. The magazine's former editor, Gao Yi, expressed his regret about the closure on his Sina microblog account, and said the magazine would be handed over to a local university in Xiamen and relaunched as a scholarly journal. According to the Washington Post, editors at Chinese print media outlets are routinely asked to attend meetings at the Central Propaganda Department to receive the latest censorship guidelines.

* Sina Finance 4/12/2011 (in Chinese): Business Watch Magazine announces decision to discontinue <>
* ENorth 5/9/2010 (in Chinese): Business Watch Magazine suspended for allegedly fabricating news <>
* Washington Post 4/12/2011: Chinese editors, and a website, detail censors' hidden hand <>



Scattershot allegations follow artist-blogger Ai Weiwei's detention

China's top artist and blogger, Ai Weiwei, who was apparently detained by authorities in Beijing on April 3, has since been accused of various misdeeds ranging from economic crimes to plagiarism, raising concerns that the authorities are fishing for allegations to justify his arrest and possible future imprisonment. For example, the state-run news agency Xinhua said Ai stole ideas for his 2007 Fairytale project from Yue Luqing, an art professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Xi'an. However, Yue told the Guardian that he has never personally made such a claim. In an official white paper issued on March 31, China's National Defense in 2010, the government declared that it would "resolutely subdue all subversive and sabotage activities," and this effort is increasingly extending to the art world. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), artists Huang Xiang, Zhui Hun, and Cheng Li were detained on March 24 and are currently being held in Tiahu Detention Center in Beijing for "causing a disturbance." They had attended an exhibition at the Beijing Museum of Contemporary Art that touched on sensitive topics such as freedom of speech and calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" in China. Beijing-based artist Guo Gai, who reportedly took photographs at the exhibition, was also taken away by police and had his computer confiscated.

* Economist 4/10/2011: On the defensive <>
* Art Info 4/11/2011: Ai Weiwei faces strange new accusations in China as supporters rally in Hong Kong: the latest developments <>
 * Chinese Human Rights Defenders 4/5/2011: China human rights briefing March 31–April 5, 2011 <>


Former journalist threatened with return to prison

Zhao Lianhai, a former journalist who had played a role in launching a website and organizing parents whose children were sickened in a tainted-milk scandal in 2008 after his young son fell ill due to the product, was detained for questioning by Beijing police on April 6, a day after he openly expressed concern for well-known artist and blogger Ai Weiwei. Ai is believed to be in state custody after disappearing on April 3. Zhao said the police warned him to stop speaking out on behalf of dissidents, telling him to "be quiet or go back to jail." He had been sentenced to two and half years in prison for "disturbing social order" in November 2010, but was released on medical parole a month later, with the condition that he not speak to the media.

* South China Morning Post 4/8/2011: Milk activist told 'be quiet or go back to jail' <>


Chinese video-streaming site expands, with foreign help

On March 31, China's biggest online video-streaming site, Youku, launched the dramatic series Miss Puff for an estimated viewership of 280 million. The project is a collaboration with U.S. automaker General Motors and Chinese technology firm Lenovo, both of which advertise their products in the series. Because foreign competitors such as YouTube are blocked in China and the country lacks an established subscription television sector, Youku founder and chief executive Victor Koo says his company has an "operating leverage." Similar to other companies hosting user-generated content in China, Youku has developed a range of mechanisms for screening videos and deleting or altering those deemed to contravene Communist Party censorship directives. After focusing on Asian content in the past, Youku plans to expand its video-on-demand database through licensing deals with U.S. companies, including Disney and National Geographic. Youku's new media film project in November 2010 was a partnership with state-run China Film Group, the country's sole distributor of foreign movies.

* Asia Media Journal 3/30/2011: Koo plots Youku content strategy <>
* Variety 3/31/2011: Youku launches 'Miss Puff' <>


Embassies use microblogs to reach Chinese public

A report by Southern Weekend, one of the few liberal newspapers in China, said that the microblogging service Weibo has become a popular platform for communication between foreign embassies and Chinese netizens. The service is offered by the Chinese web portal company Sina. On their Chinese-language accounts, embassy staff members answer queries on topics ranging from the history of their countries to visa requirements. The U.S. embassy is noted for allowing all kinds of comments on its page, including policy debates, without blocking any follower. Most embassies share highlights of their public events by posting photographs, a function that Twitter, a U.S.-based microblogging service that is banned in China, does not offer. The French embassy said that microblogging helps diplomats reach out to the Chinese people without going through any intermediary. However, some postings, particularly from the U.S. Embassy and on the topic of internet freedom have run into censorship in the past.

* Southern Weekend 3/31/2011 (in Chinese): Embassies in China's fingertip diplomacy <>
* Ministry of Tofu 4/8/2011: Foreign embassies reach out to Chinese net users on microblog <>
* China Media Bulletin No. 11: U.S. embassy's online outreach interrupted <//>


Facebook mulls adding Baidu as a friend

On April 11, after Bloomberg and Reuters reported that the popular social-networking website Facebook planned to partner with China's search-engine giant Baidu to enter the Chinese market, Facebook issued a statement saying it is "currently studying and learning about China." Baidu's shares shot up more than 4 percent on the same day. However, according to the state-run People's Daily, Baidu has denied reports claiming that the two companies would build an entirely new social-networking website. Facebook is currently blocked in China, and despite the increasing popularity of circumvention tools, statistics suggest that only about 391,000 of China's 420 million internet users have Facebook accounts.

* Reuters 4/11/2011: Facebook has not signed China deal: source <>
* People's Daily 4/13/2011: Baidu denies cooperation agreement with Facebook <>
* Socialbakers: China Facebook statistics <>



Hong Kong media vulnerable to self-censorship, U.S. report says

The U.S. State Department identifies self-censorship as a threat to press freedom in Hong Kong in its latest Reports on Human Rights Practices, released on April 9. The annual report says that at most local media outlets, which are owned by China-friendly corporations, editors defer to the "perceived concerns of publishers" regarding their mainland business interests. The Hong Kong government immediately responded to the claims by stating that freedom of speech in the territory is protected by law. It also stressed that the public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), whose editorial independence has been questioned by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, is managed by the station's director of broadcasting rather than its board of directors. Hong Kong is ranked Partly Free in Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press index. It was downgraded from Free in 2009 as Beijing's influence over Hong Kong media became more formalized and publicly evident. Of particular concern were the appointment of 10 Hong Kong media owners to a mainland Chinese political advisory body and reports that critics of Beijing had more difficulty gaining access to Hong Kong media platforms.

* South China Morning Post 4/10/2011: HK media vulnerable to self censorship, says annual US rights report <>
* Hong Kong Special Administration Region Government 4/9/2011: Response to United States report on human rights <>
* Freedom of the Press 2010: Hong Kong <//>



Bob Dylan is no rebel in front of CCP

On April 6, U.S. music icon Bob Dylan made his first-ever appearance in China at Beijing's Workers Stadium, singing a list of songs that were preapproved by the Chinese Ministry of Culture. When touring in Taiwan, Dylan had performed "Blowin' in the Wind," whose lyrics are closely identified with protest movements. However, his Beijing debut featured only innocuous hits such as "Forever Young" and "Love Sick." Dylan had been scheduled to perform in Beijing and Shanghai in 2010, but according to his promoter, Brokers Brother Herald, approval was delayed by the Chinese government's insistence that he pledge "not to hurt Chinese people's feelings" at his shows.

* Washington Post 4/6/2011: The time they are a-censored: Bob Dylan makes first appearance in China <>
* Telegraph 4/6/2011: China will monitor Bob Dylan concert <>


Taiwan artists express support for Ai

After Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei was detained in Beijing on April 3, Taiwan's Taipei Contemporary Art Center (TCAC) said it would screen Ai's documentary, A Lonely Man, and host a discussion of China's censorship of the arts in mid-April to express its support for freedom of speech in China. At the time of his detention, Ai had been preparing to leave for a scheduled visit to Taiwan to discuss an exhibition. TCAC had organized an event on photojournalism in December 2010 in partnership with photographers and journalists from China, including Chang He, deputy editor in chief at the state-run Shanghai Dongfang Daily. China has raised objections to past instances of Taiwanese artistic support for Chinese dissidents. In September 2009, Beijing denounced Taiwan's decision to show The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, at the country's Kaohsiung film festival.

* Agence France-Presse 4/9/2011: Film on detained China artist to screen in Taiwan <>
* Taipei Contemporary Art Center 12/12/2010: Survival Scene: Cross-strait photojournalism expo <>