China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 32 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 32

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

Issue No. 32: September 15, 2011

* Ai Weiwei article ripped from 'Newsweek' magazine
* Train crash fallout triggers pressure on microblogs
* Beijing extends Google China's web license
* Vice premier's Hong Kong visit prompts restrictions on press, protesters
* Indonesia radio station closed, manager jailed after critical China reporting

Printable version



Ai Weiwei article ripped from 'Newsweek' magazine

On August 28, Newsweek magazine published an article by prominent Chinese blogger and artist Ai Weiwei in which he describes Beijing as a "nightmare" and a place where "you can never trust the judicial system." Reflecting on Beijing's migrant workers, his abduction by security forces earlier in the year, and the ongoing construction that has altered the city's landscape, Ai conveys his sense of alienation from Beijing. The piece appeared to violate his bail conditions, which reportedly barred him from speaking to foreign media. Chinese censors removed the article from issues of Newsweek that were disseminated in China. Nevertheless, as of September 2, the publication's website remained accessible to internet users in the country. Responding to the government's actions, Newsweek International editor Tunku Varadarajan told Britain's Telegraph, "Journalistically, you know you're doing the right thing when the Chinese censors tear up your magazine."

* Newsweek 8/28/2011: Ai Weiwei on Beijing's nightmare city <>
* Telegraph 9/2/2011: China censors Ai Weiwei's Newsweek interview <>


Propaganda bureau to control outspoken papers

Beijing's municipal propaganda bureau announced on September 2 that it will take control of the Beijing Times and Beijing News, which were previously overseen by higher-level authorities and known for their bold reporting in comparison with China's other state-owned media outlets. The move has been interpreted as punishment for the two newspapers' defiance of official censorship directives in July, when they reported critically on a high-speed train accident in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, that killed at least 40 people. Some journalists expressed fears that they would be barred from conducting cross-regional reporting or providing negative coverage of events in Beijing (see CMB No. 10). Officials denied rumors of a crackdown, adding that the papers' editorial policies and senior staff would remain in place, and that the aim of the change was to make the publications more influential. Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that searches for the two papers' titles and relevant news about the oversight change were blocked on China's popular microblogging site Sina Weibo.

* Guardian 9/3/2011: Propaganda bureau takes control of two Beijing newspapers <>
* China Media Project 7/25/2011: History of high-speed propaganda tells all <>


Journalists, netizens punished for challenging censorship

In recent weeks, a number of Chinese netizens and journalists in various provinces have reportedly been punished for challenging Communist Party censorship restrictions. The following are a sample of such cases:

- Wang Lihong, a Beijing-based human rights defender and democracy activist, was convicted of "creating a disturbance" and sentenced on September 9 to nine months in prison. The trial proceedings opened on August 12, concluded after two and a half hours, and were marred by procedural flaws and investigative errors. The charge against Wang was tied to her support for three bloggers from Fujian who were convicted of defamation in 2010, though she was not detained until March 2011 amid a broad crackdown triggered by online calls for a Tunisian-style "Jasmine Revolution" in China.

- Chen Zhong, president of the Guangzhou-based Nanfeng Chuang magazine, and Zhao Lingmin, editor at the same publication, were demoted and suspended, respectively, during an internal meeting on August 15. The measures were reportedly punishment for their publication of an interview with Taiwanese historian Tang Chi-hua, during which the scholar voiced criticism of Sun Yat-sen, leader of the revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty in the early 20th century.

- Liang Haiyi, a netizen based in Harbin City, Heilonjiang Province, was initially detained in February for posting information about calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" in China on domestic websites such as QQ. She was charged with "inciting subversion of state power." In August, a human rights lawyer learned that she was being held at a Harbin women's prison and that her case had been transferred to a court, but no information about a trial date was yet available.

* Committee to Protect Journalists 8/19/2011: Chinese journalists punished for citing historian <>
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 9/12/2011: Chinese court sends to jail activist and "Jasmine crackdown" detainee Wang Lihong <>
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 9/6/2011: China Human Rights Briefing August 29–September 6, 2011 <>



Train crash fallout triggers pressure on microblogs

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials have taken steps to increase controls on microblogging services since July, when the media tools enabled the circulation of unofficial accounts of a high-speed train accident in Zhejiang Province as well as angry public responses to the authorities' cover-up attempts. On August 2, CCP mouthpiece People's Daily urged officials to use microblogs to communicate with the public and ensure that official views are better represented in online discussions. Meanwhile, on August 29, Beijing party secretary Liu Qi visited the popular Chinese web-portal operator Sina Corporation, which owns the Sina Weibo microblogging service; Sina Weibo reportedly has some 200 million users. Liu urged Sina and other internet companies to block all "false and harmful information." Sina issued a statement a few days later, stressing that the company would "put more effort into attacking all kinds of rumors." It soon sent a notice to all Sina Weibo users reporting that two postings, including one about the killing of a 19-year-old woman, were false. Despite such efforts, internet expert Xiao Qiang of the University of California, Berkeley, questioned whether the government and compliant internet companies would be able to fully tame the microblog scene given how effective Weibo is at "aggregating micro-opinions into a collective voice."

* Agence France-Presse 9/8/2011: China struggles to tame microblogging masses < >
* Australian 8/29/2011: Chinese blog purge under party pressure <>
* China Media Project 8/2/2011: Politics in the age of the microblog <>


New U.S. envoy misses chance to defend internet freedom

On September 9, after newly installed U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke gave a speech to 400 students at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Chinese journalism professor and prominent blogger Qiao Mu asked Locke about his views on China's internet policy. Qiao inquired as to whether Locke had visited China's other "famous wall, the Great Firewall of China," and what Locke would do to implement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's repeated statements of U.S. support for internet freedom, including in China. In a response likely to disappoint free expression advocates in China and the United States, Locke vaguely replied that "what will hamper the use of the internet is the lack of trust," namely trust in the privacy of user information. The statement appeared to be a retreat from Locke's previous remarks on the topic. During a June 2011 speech, for example, he had argued that "cyberspace must remain a level playing field that rewards innovation, entrepreneurship, and industriousness, not a venue where states arbitrarily disrupt the free flow of information to create unfair advantage. I look forward to working with Secretary Clinton and my other diplomatic colleagues to promote…internet freedom issues."

* Agence France-Presse 9/9/2011: US ambassador Locke put on spot over China censors <>
* United States Department of Commerce 2011/6/16: Remarks at U.S. Chamber of Commerce on global flow of information on the internet <>


Beijing extends Google China's web license

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced on September 7 that U.S. technology giant Google's internet-content provider (ICP) license, operated by Beijing Guxiang Information Technology, had been renewed for another year. The company will keep its China homepage, which provides product-search functions while also redirecting users to its uncensored search engine based in Hong Kong. Facing local competitors such as Baidu and Sogou, which are known for strict compliance with official censorship demands, Google has seen its share of the search-engine market drop in China, where it is significantly lower than in other countries. Google will focus on entertainment and advertising in the Chinese market and cater to Chinese businesses seeking to advertise to foreigners. On September 13, it unveiled "Google Shi-Hui," a daily-deals service which aggregates links to deals offered by other Chinese websites.

* ZDNet 9/8/2011: China extends Google's net license <>
* Beijing News 9/14/2011 (in Chinese): Google China offers group deal function <>


New evidence points to Cisco misdeeds in China

On September 2, the Washington, D.C.–based Human Rights Law Foundation (HRLF), which sued the California-based information technology company Cisco in May, said it had obtained further evidence that Cisco customized its technology to assist Chinese security agencies and thereby contributed to human rights abuses. The lawsuit seeks compensation for 11 Falun Gong practitioners who were persecuted by the Chinese government for online activities that were allegedly tracked with technology provided by Cisco. HRLF's evidence includes documents produced by the company's marketing team. One page from a PowerPoint presentation reportedly says Cisco technology can "recognize over 90% of Falun Gong pictures" in e-mail traffic. In another incident cited by HRLF, Cisco employees were reportedly quoted as saying in an online question-and-answer session that Cisco's equipment could be used to help "guard against Falun Gong." The foundation claims that Cisco chief executive John Chamber met repeatedly with former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, a founder of the Communist Party's anti–Falun Gong campaign. Cisco has denied that it facilitated Beijing's surveillance of users, adding that the same equipment is distributed worldwide. The suit is emerging as an important test case for a law that allows U.S. companies to be sued for violations of human rights committed abroad, and specifically for the statute's application to technology companies (see CMB No. 30).

* Sydney Morning Herald 9/6/211: New evidence links Cisco to jailing and torture of Chinese <>
* New York Times 9/2/2011: Group says it has new evidence of Cisco's misdeeds in China <>
* Reuters 9/9/2011: Insight: Cisco suits on China rights abuses to test legal reach <>



Vice premier's visit prompts restrictions on press, protesters

During an August 16–18 visit to Hong Kong by Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang, local authorities reportedly took unprecedented measures to restrict freedoms of expression and assembly. The great distance between Li and the designated area for journalists, and strict security checks that accompanied the visit, stood in contrast to measures taken on past occasions. While the vice premier took part in at least 22 events, reporters were allowed to cover only 10 of them. Journalists were also blocked by plainclothes police from reporting on and taking pictures at some events. In two separate incidents, police detained a group of students protesting at the University of Hong Kong and a resident wearing a shirt that referred to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in a community Li was visiting. The Hong Kong Journalists' Association held a rally on August 20 to protest the unfair treatment of reporters during the visit. In addition, Tsui Lap-chee, president of the University of Hong Kong, issued an apology for incidents at the school and gave assurances that the university would remain a stronghold for freedom of expression in Hong Kong.

* Want Daily 8/27/2011: Hong Kong media criticize harsh measures during Li visit <>
* South China Morning Post 9/14/2011: Frank Ching compares the handling of Li Keqiang's visit to Hong Kong with the easy-going nature of Joe Biden's Beijing trip <>
* South China Morning Post 9/1/2011: Tang reflects on that comment <>
* South China Morning Post 8/22/2011: Security for Li's visit was too rigid <>


False Jiang Zemin death report roils ATV leadership

In recent weeks, a widening rift has emerged between senior management and journalists at Asia Television (ATV), one of Hong Kong's leading television outlets. In July, the station erroneously announced the death of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, prompting a wave of international coverage. ATV then retracted the report and made a public apology (see CMB No. 29). Senior Vice President Leung Ka-wing and Vice President Tammy Tam made their resignations from the station public on September 5. Leung said he quit because he failed to prevent the airing of the false report. Though he did not expand on the specifics of the incident, his statement reinforced suspicions that one of the station's owners-Wang Zheng, who is known for his close ties to Beijing-was the one who ordered the story's inclusion in the news program. Those suspicions in turn have raised concerns that ATV's editorial autonomy was compromised. About 20 members of the Democratic Party demonstrated outside the ATV headquarters in early September, demanding a full explanation of the affair. Lau Lan-cheong, the station's new senior vice president, reportedly ordered the ATV news team to tone down coverage of the demonstration. However, the journalists ignored the instruction and reported on the protest in detail during the evening newscast.

* Epoch Times 9/12/2011: Executives at Hong Kong broadcaster resign after disputed report <>
* South China Morning Post 9/9/2011: ATV staff dig in over editorial autonomy <>



Tibetan writer awarded Dutch prize

The Netherlands-based Prince Claus Fund announced on September 4 that Tibetan writer and blogger Woeser is one of this year's recipients of the Prince Claus Award. Founded in 1996, the award honors 11 cultural and social advocates of freedom of expression each year. Woeser, who resides in Beijing, was selected for her activism and reportage on the "complexities of Tibet today." Her blog and e-mail accounts have experienced periodic shutdowns and frequent cyberattacks. According to the Tibetan-language news portal Phayul, more than three million netizens visited her blog at the height of the March 2008 uprising in Tibet, relying on her daily updates as a credible news source.

* Phayul 9/6/2011: Woeser receives international honour <>



Media group's bid for cable firm stirs debate in Taiwan

On September 6, Taiwan's media regulator, the National Communications Commission (NCC), held a public hearing on Want Want Broadband's proposal to purchase China Network Systems (CNS), the country's second-largest cable television provider. Want Want Broadband is a subsidiary of Want Want Group, which owns print and digital media in Taiwan and whose owner has significant commercial interests in China. According to the Taiwanese newspaper United Daily News, there were no consumer rights groups at the hearing, and only one out of the seven NCC commissioners showed up. While corporate representatives had up to three hours for discussion, scholars and civil society groups were given just 10 minutes. Some observers suggested that civil society members may have been hesitant to speak at the hearing because of intimidating actions taken by the Want Want Group against scholars and NCC commissioners who criticized the media group in 2009. Concerns have been raised in media and academic circles that Want Want's ownership of CNS would allow it to exclude its competitors from cable distribution, limiting Taiwanese viewers' access to diverse information. Want Want has denied claims that part of the NT$70 billion ($2.41 billion) in funding for the deal came from the Chinese government. The acquisition, if approved by the NCC and two other government units under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, would be the biggest cable television deal in Asia.

* Central News Agency 9/6/2011 (in Chinese): NCC to announce decision on Want Want's deal after public hearing <>
* United Daily News 9/7/2011 (in Chinese): NCC handles Asia's biggest media merge with one person <>
* Central News Agency 9/6/2011: Want Want defends cable system buyout <>
* Freedom of the Press 2010: Taiwan <//>


Indonesia radio station closed, manager jailed after critical China reporting

On September 8, Gatot Machali, the manager of Indonesian station Radio Era Baru, was sentenced to six months in prison on charges of "broadcasting without permission and disrupting neighboring frequencies" in a case that has prompted condemnation from press freedom groups and concerns over China's influence on free expression in Southeast Asia (see CMB No. 31). Machali will serve an additional three months if he fails to pay a fine of 50 million rupees ($5,800). Given the selective enforcement of Indonesian regulations in the case, it was widely believed to have been brought due to Chinese pressure. The Chinese embassy had warned Indonesian authorities in 2007 that Era Baru, a local partner of the Falun Gong–affiliated Sound of Hope network that frequently reports on the Chinese government's human rights abuses, was damaging Sino-Indonesian relations. Machali has filed an appeal of his conviction. Despite the ongoing judicial proceedings, on September 13, a group of 30 officials, including military police and Information Ministry officers, raided Era Baru. They disregarded the protests of journalists at the station and removed its transmitting equipment. 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.

* Reporters Without Borders 9/13/2011: Radio Era Baru forcibly closed by police <,36765>
* Freedom House 9/14/2011: Indonesian radio station closed by police, manager sentenced to jail <//>


Chinese blogger awarded media prize in Germany

On September 8, prominent Chinese blogger and journalist Zhao Jing, better known as Michael Anti, received the prestigious M100 Sanssouci Media Award in Potsdam, Germany, for his "unwavering" advocacy for press freedom in China. Zhao previously worked as a reporter in Iraq and an assistant at the New York Times Beijing bureau. In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he said he identifies himself as a journalist rather than a dissident because "I report on events-I don't make them." In 2007, Zhao rose to international prominence after his blog was deleted on Microsoft's hosting provider MSN Spaces following pressure from Beijing.

* M100 Sanssouci-Colloquium: Michael Anti Receives M100 Media Prize 2011 <>