China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 31 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 31

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

Issue No. 31: July 28, 2011

* Train crash cover-up fuels public outrage
* Beijing police demand Wi-Fi surveillance in public spaces
* Netizens protest Google+ real-name policy; Ai joins site
* Phony Apple stores unmasked in Yunnan
* Xinhua steps up branding efforts in Times Square

Printable Version


Train crash cover-up fuels public outrage

On July 23, two of China's new high-speed trains collided in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. Official reports indicated that at least 38 people were killed and over 190 were injured. Almost immediately, the Central Propaganda Department issued directives to media outlets on how to cover the crash. According to China Digital Times and Reuters, journalists were ordered to use only information released by officials and not to conduct independent interviews. There was a particular emphasis on not conducting investigations into the cause of the crash; reporters were instead told to stress the theme that "in the face of great tragedy, there's great love." News of the crash first spread via the Sina Weibo microblogging service, as passengers posted messages and called for help. In recent weeks, Weibo had already become a forum where citizens shared doubts about the safety of the new high-speed trains and reported on delays, electricity cuts, and tilted railway cars. Railway officials' refusal to answer basic questions about the accident sparked public anger and a general outpouring of online comments demanding transparency. A poll on Sina Weibo found that 98 percent of respondents believed that the authorities had begun to bury segments of the trains to destroy evidence, rather than to aid rescue efforts or protect proprietary technology, as suggested in the official media. More broadly, public frustration was also aimed at what David Bandurski of the China Media Project describes as a Communist Party governing culture that prioritizes "grandiose visions-a Great Leap Forward mentality-over basic public concerns like safety and fiscal accountability."

* China Digital Times 7/25/2011: Directives from the Ministry of Truth: Wenzhou high-speed train crash <>
* China Digital Times 7/25/2011: Poll: 98% say Wenzhou train buried to destroy evidence <>
* Christian Science Monitor 7/26/2011: Public calls for change of track following bullet train crash in China <>
* China Media Project 7/26/2011: Images on social media chronicle days of disaster <>
* China Media Project 7/25/2011: History of high-speed propaganda tells all <>


Independent writers barred from professional gatherings

As the literary group Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) celebrates its 10th anniversary, the Chinese authorities have increased surveillance and restrictions on the movement of its members. On July 20, the U.S. embassy in Beijing held a roundtable discussion on free expression and publishing rights in China, as part of a visit to China by the New York–based PEN American Center. However, only three out of 14 invitees were able to attend, as the others were stopped by security agents. Beijing-based journalist Dai Qing was among those who did not show up. She said the authorities knew of the invitation from monitoring her telephone calls. In another incident on July 23, three members of the ICPC were barred from attending an event in Hong Kong that celebrated the anniversary. The three were Zhuang Daohe, a Hangzhou-based lawyer and writer; Jiao Guobiao, a former journalism professor who had bought a plane ticket but was confined at home by security agents outside his apartment; and Cui Weiping, a prominent poet who has been banned from attending overseas literary events since jailed democracy advocate and ICPC founder Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in late 2010. On the day after the Hong Kong event, ICPC president Liao Tianqi and two other overseas Chinese writers, Ma Jianyu and Bai Ling, all of whom have foreign citizenship, were denied entry to China by Shenzhen customs officials after they traveled from Hong Kong.

* New York Times 7/23/2011: China bars writers from a literary celebration, continuing a crackdown <>
* Independent Chinese PEN Center 7/23/2011: Independent Chinese PEN Center celebrates tenth anniversary in shadow of escalating repression <>
* Deutsche-Welle 7/24/2011: China customs bar overseas writers to entry <,,15263175,00.html>


Investigative reporter's Gmail account hacked

Zhao Hejuan, an investigative reporter at the respected Beijing-based magazine Caixin, recently learned that her account on Google's e-mail service, Gmail, had been accessed by someone else on multiple occasions since July 19. A Gmail security alert indicated that the hacking originated in Hunan Province's Longhui County, where Zhao had conducted an in-depth report on child-trafficking cases and the local government's family planning policy. The account contained personal communications related to the investigation as well as confidential information on Caixin's business operations. The magazine said it had reported the incident to Beijing police. Separately, on July 25, a week after state-run China Economic Times announced the dismissal of its five-person investigative reporting unit, the paper's editor in chief, Zhang Jianjing, confirmed that he had been reassigned to the China Economic Yearbook, a state-supervised research publication. The employment status of Wang Keqin, a renowned journalist who had led the investigative team and produced articles critical of the government, remained unclear (see CMB No. 30).

* Radio Free Asia 7/25/2011: Cutting-edge editor moved <>
* Caixin 7/23/2011: Statement: Caixin reporter's Gmail hacked <>


Citing Murdoch scandal, state media denounce press freedom

A series of state-run media reports and editorials in recent weeks have used the voice-mail hacking scandal surrounding media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News of the World weekly in Britain to issue a sweeping condemnation of Western media and press freedom more generally. The People's Daily said that "Western media doesn't care about social morality," while the Shanghai Communist Party paper Liberation Daily wrote that "'freedom of the press' … is now being widely doubted by citizens from every country." Anti-CNN, a website launched during protests in Tibet in 2008 to counter "the distortions of facts from the Western media," posted a story entitled "'The News of the World' Scandal Gives Western Media Freedom a Big Slap in the Face." Chinese blogger Michael Anti explains that the aim of such articles is to undermine Western criticism of fake reports or propaganda by Chinese outlets, effectively encouraging the average Chinese reader to think, "Well, Western media is also very rotten." State-run media routinely publish other editorials designed to fuel anti-American or anti-Western sentiment. On July 18, Huanqiu, a paper run by the official Xinhua news agency, published an editorial criticizing Western coverage of a violent incident in Xinjiang, saying it demonstrated that "the West … has already become the de facto instigator or even friend of China's terrorism."

* Daily Beast 7/20/2011: China bashes the West for Murdoch scandal <>
* People's Daily Online 7/25/2011: Phone hacking scandal reflects Western media institutional dilemma <>
* Global Times 7/20/2011 (in Chinese): The West, "Xinjiang separatist" terrorist sympathizer <>


Beijing police demand Wi-Fi surveillance in public spaces

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, police in central Beijing's Dongcheng district recently announced that all cafes, hotels, and other businesses that offer wireless internet access must install surveillance software or face penalties and possible closure. The software, which costs about 20,000 yuan ($3,105), will reportedly allow the government to identify internet users who might seek to "conduct blackmail, traffic goods, gamble, propagate damaging information and spread computer viruses." However, given the government's track record, there are concerns that the technology will be used to monitor and punish communications about politics and human rights. Some small-business owners have cut off their wireless services to avoid paying for the mandatory software, while many customers say the new rule compromises their privacy. Surveillance of internet communications by security forces is pervasive in China, and Freedom House's Freedom on the Net report in April found that the space for anonymous online communication has been steadily shrinking.

* Guardian 7/26/2011: China boosts internet surveillance <>
* Freedom on the Net 2011 4/18/2011: China <//>


Netizens protest Google+ real-name policy; Ai joins site

An increasing number of Chinese netizens have reported that their accounts on the new social-networking service Google+ were deleted for violating the site's "real-name policy." Many users argue that they need to employ pseudonyms for their own safety. Access to Google+ is restricted in China, and netizens use circumvention tools to reach it, but this does not protect them from retribution for their comments if they are forced to write under their real names. Some netizens have published a plea to Google online, and a Google vice president told a U.S. blogger that the company was working to develop a way to allow pseudonyms. On July 25, China's top artist and blogger Ai Weiwei joined Google+, with a message that said "Greetings! I'm here!" and a photograph showing him without his shirt to prove the account's authenticity. Previously known as an active Twitter user, Ai had been largely silent since his release from three months of detention on June 22. Observers both inside and outside China have been curious about whether he would resume his role as an outspoken commentator on the Chinese government, and more than 6,000 people added Ai to their Google+ social-networking "circles" within one day of his account's creation.

* Penn Olson 7/26/2011: Chinese netizens protest Google+ real-name policy, as users get booted <>
* Huffington Post 7/25/2011: Ai Weiwei breaks his social media silence by joining Google+ <>
* Google+ 7/22/2011 (in Chinese): A Google+ user's advice to Google: On Google+ users' real name policy <>
* CNET 7/25/2011: Google VP: Why Google+ requires real names <>


Phony Apple stores unmasked in Yunnan

As California-based Apple Computer seeks to increase the availability of its iPhone in China, an American blogger nicknamed BirdAbroad reported sightings of a fake Apple store in Yunnan Province's Kunming City on July 20 (see photos at first link below). The store's glass exterior and giant posters, which display the company's latest products and iconic logo, make it seem almost identical to the real stores. The salespeople, with name tags imprinted with the company logo, also appear just as professional as the real Apple staff, with several stating that they themselves believed it was a genuine outlet. According to the state-run news agency Xinhua, the authorities have launched a citywide investigation, closing two of five unauthorized resellers in Kunming. Currently there are only four authorized Apple stores in China, all of which are located in Beijing and Shanghai.

* BirdAbroad 7/20/2011: Are you listening, Steve Jobs? <>
* Wall Street Journal 7/20/2011: The ultimate knock-off: A fake Apple store <>
* China Daily 7/26/2011: Officials close 2 of 5 fake Apple stores <>


Plan for compulsory curriculum on China draws skepticism

Since Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang announced a proposed compulsory curriculum on China for the territory's primary and secondary schools in May, educators and parents have expressed their skepticism, arguing that the program could amount to "brainwashing." A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) found that over 60 percent of the 200 future educators queried doubt the government's ability to provide unbiased views on mainland China. About 40 percent of 500 interviewed parents had similar concerns about the curriculum. Under Tsang's proposal, schools would offer at least two lessons a week, including requirements that schoolchildren sing China's national anthem and attend flag-raising ceremonies. The president of HKIEd's student union, Liu Sze-ming, suggested that the Beijing administration would likely ensure the omission of politically sensitive topics, such as its mistreatment of political dissidents.

* South China Morning Post 7/22/2011: Teachers-to-be fear plans for 'brainwashing' <>


Xinhua steps up branding efforts in Times Square

China's state-run news agency, Xinhua, is scheduled to unveil a giant advertisement above New York City's Times Square on August 1. According to the owner of 2 Times Square, the building where Xinhua will display its 60-by-40-foot LED sign, the news agency's lease is for at least six years. While advertising in such prime locations could cost up to $400,000 a month, the move indicates the Chinese government's ambitions to expand its presence in the U.S. media market, where many consumers are either unfamiliar with Xinhua or consider it to be a propaganda agency. Its North American headquarters was relocated to a 44-story skyscraper on Times Square on May 19, placing it only two blocks away from the renowned global news agency Reuters. Xinhua launched a 24-hour English-language television news channel in 2010. On July 21, the channel became available in the United Kingdom and Ireland on British Sky Broadcasting's satellite platform. It will appear within the channel band of international news programming, alongside CNN.

* New York Times 7/25/2011: Xinhua's giant sign to blink on in Times Square <>
* Xinhua 7/22/2011 (in Chinese): Xinhua English news channel to be launched on Sky TV <>
* Reporters Without Borders: Xinhua: the world's biggest propaganda agency <>


Ousted from Rwanda, Chinese firm set to control Kenya broadcasting

On July 19, Kenya's Procurement Appeals Tribunal rejected an application by a consortium of local companies for a license to build and control digital broadcasting infrastructure, citing a number of technicalities. As a result, the Chinese firm Pan Africa Media, the only other competitor for the license, became the automatic winner. The decision caused an uproar in the Kenyan media industry and among the public. Critics expressed concern that Pan Africa Media could use its control over transmission facilities to cut off broadcasts at the government's request during times of crisis, an especially troubling possibility given the upcoming national elections in 2012. Observers also pointed out glaring problems with the Chinese company's application. A Kenyan government policy established in 2006 calls for contracts involving critical telecommunications infrastructure to be granted to firms with local shareholders, but Pan Africa Media is a wholly Chinese-owned company. In addition, the Chinese firm registered in Kenya just a few days before applying, and did not present a required tax-compliance certificate. Reinforcing public fears was the discovery that in June 2011, a Rwandan regulatory body had revoked a radio and internet-service license granted in 2007 to the same firm-listed in Rwanda as Star Africa Media-because it had "failed to start the implementation of its license obligations despite numerous enforcement letters." Kenyan lawmakers said on July 20 that they would seek to block the award of the license to the Chinese company, and the disqualified Kenyan consortium said it would appeal the tribunal's ruling. Kenya is rated Partly Free in Freedom House's 2011 Freedom of the Press index, and both China and Rwanda are rated Not Free.

* Daily Nation 7/19/2011: Chinese firm to control media signal <>
* Daily Nation 7/20/2011: MPs to block award of broadcast tender <>
* Daily Nation 7/21/2011: Chinese firm loses radio license in Rwanda <>
* Daily Nation 7/23/2011: Why it's risky for state and China to control media <>
* Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency 6/9/2011: Board decision revoking the ISP license and radio communication license of Star Africa Media Ltd <>


Verdict near for Indonesia radio manager who aired critical Chinese content

The trial of Indonesian radio station manager Gatot Machali on charges of "broadcasting without authorization" is in its final stages in Jakarta. On July 11, the prosecutor presented concluding arguments and reduced the requested punishment from six years to six months and a fine of 50 million rupiah ($5,800), according to local media reports. International press freedom groups and members of the European Parliament have criticized the case, which is the latest in a series of attempts by the Indonesian authorities-under Chinese pressure-to shut down Machali's station, Radio Era Baru. The outlet, a local partner of the Falun Gong–affiliated Sound of Hope network, is known for broadcasting Chinese-language programming that is critical of the Chinese government, including coverage of human rights abuses. After winning an administrative court case in October 2010 (see CMB No. 15), in May 2011, Radio Era Baru won a high court decision affirming its right to broadcast temporarily, pending a ruling by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the prosecution has continued its case against Machali. A decision is expected within the next two weeks. Should the Machali be jailed, it would set a worrisome precedent for Chinese influence on free expression in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is rated Partly Free in Freedom House's 2011 Freedom of the Press index and Free in the 2011 Freedom in the World survey.

* Tribun News 7/11/2011 (in Indonesian): Director of New Era Radio faces 6 months in jail <>
* Economist: 4/20/2011: China abroad: Bang a gong <>
* Reporters Without Borders 3/23/2011: Local radio station manager facing six-year jail term <,39854.html>


Mainlanders mingle with Taiwan presidential hopefuls on Google+

Tsai Ing-wen, the presidential candidate of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party, became the first Taiwanese politician to open an account on the social-networking service Google+ in early July. Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of her Google+ "friends" are from mainland China, where the site is reportedly restricted. Asked whether she was concerned about negative comments that might be written on her page, Tsai replied that she was not afraid and saw the site as a good tool for allowing more mainland Chinese to get to know Taiwan. On July 19, Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, who is seeking reelection next year, also opened an account. Ma's page quickly drew 500 comments, many of which were also written by Chinese netizens, with some inviting Ma to come and lead the People's Republic of China (PRC). "Ma Ying-jeou, why don't you come to liberate mainland people?…We are lacking basic internet freedom," one post said. Several accounts on Google+ purportedly belong to top PRC leaders, but none are genuine.

* South China Morning Post 7/20/2011: Ma hops on Google+ bandwagon <>
* Want Daily 7/13/2011: Tsai Ing-wen gets a plus from Google+ <>

Jailed Chinese blogger's translated works available online

An English-language website operated by a group of native Chinese speakers and volunteers has released translated writings by Ran Yunfei, a prominent Sichuan-based online commentator and the editor of Sichuan Literature magazine. Ran was arrested on March 28 in Chengdu on the charge of "inciting subversion." He remains incarcerated, though rumors surfaced in late June that his charge had been dropped due to lack of evidence (see CMB No. 28). Many of the postings consist of Ran's musings on Chinese society, human rights, and freedom of expression.

* Translation from Ran Yunfei's Writings <>