China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 33 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 33

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

Issue No. 33: September 22, 2011

HIGHLIGHTS
* State newscasts rescued from TV favorite 'Super Girl'
* Sina Weibo vows to control content amid stock plunge
* Communist Party leaders make rounds at internet firms
* Blocked in China, Twitter plans Chinese-language interface
* China backs authoritarian 'internet code of conduct' at UN

Printable version

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BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS

State newscasts rescued from TV favorite 'Super Girl'

State-run newspaper China Daily reported on September 19 that the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) had issued a one-year suspension for Super Girl, one of the country's most popular television shows. Like American Idol, the program is a talent show in which audience members vote for their favorite contestant. Hunan Satellite Television, which produces Super Girl, agreed to replace it with programs that "promote moral ethics, public safety, and housework." According to state media reports, the program was suspended for frequently breaking its 90-minute time limit. However, observers said other factors probably influenced the decision. The show's voting system, while largely limited to the studio audience after text-message voting was banned, may have be seen as too reminiscent of "Western-style democracy." Moreover, with Super Girl's viewership reaching 400 million at its peak, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may have been concerned that Hunan Satellite Television, and entertainment programming in general, was overshadowing the more tightly controlled China Central Television and state-produced newscasts. "The government is trying to push back on excessive entertainment," said Yuan Fang, a professor at China's Communication University. "They want to increase news programmes and will ask stations to broadcast an extra bulletin each evening." In May, the government had warned Hunan Broadcasting System, which owns the satellite station, that the benchmarks for measuring the success of programs would have to change, implying a shift from viewer ratings to political appraisals. This would be a reversal of the policy of the past decade, under which the authorities encouraged the commercialization of outlets, though without privatizing ownership or granting editorial independence on political and social matters (see CMB Nos.19 and 24).

* Reuters 9/19/2011: China suspends popular talent show for exceeding time limits <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/19/us-entertainment-show-idUSTRE78I2EV20110919>
* Financial Times 9/18/2011: Censors kill off China's 'Super Girl' <http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/8ba5b642-e1c1-11e0-9915-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1YQS8ifnX>
* Telegraph 9/19/2011: China begins to purge 'vulgar' shows from television <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8773611/China-begins-to-purge-vulgar-shows-from-television.html>

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Journalist murdered after food-safety reporting

On September 19, Li Xiang, a reporter at Luoyang Television Station in Luoyang, Henan Province, was stabbed to death on his way home at around 1:00 a.m. The police promptly concluded their investigation the next day, after they detained two suspects who reportedly stabbed Li 14 times near the television station and took his laptop bag, camera, and wallet. The authorities described the murder as part of the robbery, but bloggers have raised concerns that it might have been linked to Li's reporting on a scandal over the illegal sale of used cooking oil in Henan's Luanchuan County. In his last microblog entry, Li reportedly wrote that the local food administration had rejected concerns that the oil consisted of residue taken from gutters.

* Reporters Without Borders 9/20/2011: Journalist murdered while covering illegal cooking oil scandal <http://en.rsf.org/chine-journalist-murdered-while-covering-20-09-2011,41024.html>
* Hong Kong Daily News (in Chinese) 9/22/2011: Two suspects caught for Luoyang reporter case <http://www.hkdailynews.com.hk/china.php?id=182701>
* New York Times 9/22/2011: Two men arrested in killing of TV reporters in China <https://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/world/asia/arrests-in-killing-of-tv-reporter-in-china.html>

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Banned writer recounts details of escape to Germany

Liao Yiwu, a prominent Sichuan-based writer who sought refuge in Germany on July 6, recounted details of his escape from China for the first time in a New York Times op-ed published on September 15. Best known for his nonfiction book The Corpse Walker, which relays the experiences of 27 Chinese from the "bottom rungs of society" and is banned in China, Liao had been denied an exit visa by the Chinese authorities 17 times (see CMB No. 29). The police had been stationed outside his apartment since March. They had asked the writer to cancel his contract with foreign publishers, claiming that "publishing in the West is a violation of Chinese law." He was threatened with enforced disappearance if he insisted on attending the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in April. After making arrangements with his friends abroad, he took his passport and valid visas from Germany, the United States, and Vietnam, and left China through a border checkpoint in a small village in Yunnan Province on July 2. From there he successfully travelled to Hanoi, boarded a flight to Poland, and finally arrived in Germany.

* New York Times 9/15/2011: Walking out on China <https://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/opinion/walking-out-on-china.html?pagewanted=2&_r=3>

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NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS

Sina Weibo vows to control content amid stock plunge

On September 18, Charles Chao, chief executive of the popular Chinese web portal Sina Corporation, vowed to make the company's Weibo microblogging service "less a risk to social stability." His statement confirms that Sina is facing increasing pressure to curb its users' "distortions and misrepresentations" of the Chinese government. Without revealing further details, Chao said the company had set up a 10-member "rumor-curbing team" to monitor user-generated content. Amid regulatory uncertainty, a claim circulating on China's internet indicated that Sina was not granted one of four new licenses the government intended to issue for the operation of microblogging services. The company issued a statement on September 20 to refute that account. Nevertheless, its U.S.-listed shares dropped 15 percent that day. According to Beijing-based media analyst Bill Bishop, though tighter regulation and licensing are coming, the government is unlikely to completely neuter microblogs. However, he said, Chinese authorities might encourage Weibo to rid itself of foreign shareholders, making it easier for the state to regulate a medium that is "as important to national security as are online payments."

* Financial Times 9/18/2011: China's microblogs braced for tighter regulation <http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/402e52b8-e1ea-11e0-9915-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1YJ8k91M8>
* Business Insider 9/21/2011: Sina refutes licensing rumors to soothe investor panic <http://news.ichinastock.com/2011/09/sina-refutes-licensing-rumors-to-soothe-investor-panic>
* DigiCha 9/21/2011: Why did Sina shares plunge 15% Tuesday <http://digicha.com/index.php/2011/09/why-did-sina-shares-plunge-15-tuesday>
* DigiCha 9/15/2011: How will China tame microblogs like Sina Weibo? Regulations and licenses <http://digicha.com/index.php/2011/09/how-will-china-tame-microblogs-like-sina-weibo-regulations-and-licenses>

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Communist Party leaders make rounds at internet firms

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership has employed personal visits to underscore the need for tighter content controls by domestic internet companies. China's search-engine giant Baidu revealed that two high-level CCP officials visited an exhibition organized by the company on September 5 and gave "important instructions" to Baidu chief executive Robin Li. The visiting officials were Liu Qi, Beijing's party secretary, and Li Changchun, the CCP propaganda chief and a Politburo Standing Committee member. On July 19, Chinese web portal Tencent, which owns the popular instant-messaging service QQ, reported that Zhou Yongkang, China's security chief and a Politburo Standing Committee member, had "inspected" the company headquarters in Shenzhen. According to Tencent, Zhou pointed out that the "virtual society is now having a growing influence in real society and that the government should strengthen administration and Internet enterprises should also exercise greater self-discipline…[to] achieve even greater successes on the road of socialist development with Chinese characteristics." Such visits by top-ranking party officials are unusual, and although the leaders' reported comments were vague and fraught with euphemistic CCP jargon, the mere fact of the visit sends a clear message that the party's tolerance for loopholes in internet controls is on the wane.

* Wall Street Journal 9/16/2011: China looks at Baidu <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904491704576572312650786714.html>
* Tencent 8/1/2011: Zhou Yongkang, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and Secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee, inspects Tencent <http://www.tencent.com/en-us/at/pr/detail.shtml?id=at_2011_20110801c>

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Blogger compiles images of officials' luxury watches

A blogger in China recently created a microblog account featuring photographs of Chinese ministerial-level officials wearing designer watches, including brands such as Rolex, Piaget, and Cartier. Many of the watches are worth the equivalent of half of the officials' annual salaries. One of the most damaging images was a photo of the current railway minister, Sheng Guangzu, wearing a £7,300 ($11,370) Rolex timepiece. The blogger said he was inspired to build this photo album after the high-speed train accident in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, in July, which had sparked an outcry over official corruption. He uploaded a 48-page PowerPoint presentation to his Sina Weibo account, but found that access to the files was blocked for other users. In a reflection of the CCP's contradictory approach to curbing corruption, on September 17 the state-run news agency Xinhua applauded the blogger, adding that the luxury watches showed government officials' lack of accountability.

* Telegraph 9/19/2011: Chinese blogger points to luxury watches as sign of corruption <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8773715/Chinese-blogger-points-to-luxury-watches-as-sign-of-corruption.html>
* Xinhua 9/17/2011 (in Chinese): Designer watches help reflect government's anti-corruption efforts <http://big5.xinhuanet.com/gate/big5/news.xinhuanet.com/comments/2011-09/17/c_122047883.htm>

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Independent candidates' web campaigns spark backlash

Tens of thousands of independent candidates have reportedly stepped forward this year to run for local legislatures called people's congresses, which hold limited power as the lowest tier of government, but are the only bodies chosen through direct elections. The surge of candidates has been attributed to greater rights awareness as well as the availability and popularity of microblogs, which have become an alternative to the tightly controlled traditional media. However, as the poll dates approach, the authorities in various parts of China have sabotaged the electoral ambitions of independent candidates using detentions or fabricated technicalities (see CMB No. 30). Zheng Wei in Beijing, who posted messages and videos on her Weibo microblog account, was temporarily detained on September 16. Candidates must be approved by local committees to have their names listed on ballots, but Zheng said she was told to stay home and wait for registration officers every time she tried to go register herself. Yu Nan, a Lanzhou-based candidate who called for transparency on his blog, was notified on September 9 that his candidacy had been revoked, although he had turned in the necessary documents. On his microblog, he posted the following message: "On September 9 at 9:00 a.m., the original posters announcing officially registered candidates were still at the local election stations [and included Yu's name], but they were ripped off in the afternoon and were replaced by a different version with only the names of the three other candidates.… Did our dear public servants actually work during the Moon Festival long weekend holiday?"

* China Digital Times 9/14/2011: Independent candidate Yu Nan's candidacy revoked for no reason <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/09/independent-candidate-yu-nans-candidacy-revoked-for-no-reason>
* Guardian 9/19/2011: China's boom in 'citizen candidates' sparks backlash <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/19/china-citizen-candidates-clampdown>

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U.S.-based online music service to enter China market

On September 19, the U.S.-based online music service Pandora told the Chinese news site Sina Tech that it would soon announce the opening of a China branch. According to the article, the company is seeking a chief executive to lead Pandora China, which will likely be a joint venture with Chinese investors. Sina Tech said Pandora's move reflects the increased maturity of China's digital music industry. In July, Baidu Ting, the music platform of the Chinese search-engine giant Baidu, signed a deal with One-Top China, a joint venture of U.S.-based Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony BMG (see CMB No. 30). The agreement demonstrated Baidu's willingness and ability to move toward a legitimate business model with respect to international copyright rules, even as its censorship policies continued to violate international standards for freedom of expression. It is unclear what censorship pressures Pandora might encounter, but two incidents in 2008 highlighted Chinese government sensitivity to the free flow of music. In August of that year, censors apparently blocked a page on Apple's iTunes service for downloading the compilation Songs for Tibet, which included a 15-minute speech by the Dalai Lama. And in November, the album Chinese Democracy by U.S. rock band Guns N' Roses was banned and omitted from Baidu search results.

* Sina Tech 9/20/2011 (in Chinese): Pandora ready to enter China, announce China CEO soon <http://tech.sina.com.cn/i/2011-09-20/00016083004.shtml>
* Penn Olson 9/20/2011: Report: Pandora prepping a move into China, looking for local CEO <http://www.penn-olson.com/2011/09/20/pandora-china>
* SFGate 8/26/2008: China lifts iTunes block but for Tibet album <http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-08-26/business/17122380_1_itunes-chinese-web-tibet>
* Telegraph 11/24/2008: Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy 'banned' in China <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/3511767/Guns-N-Roses-Chinese-Democracy-banned-in-China.html>

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Netizens seize on new case of violence by privileged youth

In an incident that drew much attention from Chinese netizens, on September 6 a couple was assaulted in Beijing by two teenagers after they slowed their car to make a turn, forcing the teenagers' vehicles to break abruptly behind them. One of the teenagers, Li Tian-yi, is the 15-year-old son of the famous Chinese singer Li Shuang-jiang; he was driving a BMW without a license. The other youth is the son of a corporate executive from Shanxi Province; he was driving an Audi with a forged license. According to witnesses, the two teenagers began beating the couple while shouting, "Who dares to dial 110?"-the equivalent of 911 in the United States. The young men were prevented from escaping by a number of residents and other vehicles, despite their alleged offers of cash to those blocking their path. Netizens quickly compared the incident to a notorious 2010 case in which Li Qiming, the son of local police official Li Gang, defiantly fled the scene after running down two pedestrians in his car. In that case, the perpetrator ultimately received a lenient sentence for vehicular manslaughter (see CMB No. 9), and the new incident generated heated online debate on whether the pair would be sufficiently punished. Many netizens noted that Li Tian-yi's family is well connected, and that he was too young to be jailed.

* Beijing News 9/8/2011 (in Chinese): Li Shuang-jiang's son spotted driving BMW and beating people, shouting "Who dares to dial 110?" <http://news.qq.com/a/20110908/000165.htm>

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HONG KONG

Naming of civil servant to head public broadcaster draws criticism

On September 9, the Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, which oversees the public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), appointed Roy Tang Yun-Kwong-the deputy secretary of the Labor and Welfare Bureau-as RTHK's new director of broadcasting. Tang's appointment came after none of the 26 candidates who emerged from an open application process were selected. The decision sparked a barrage of criticism from RTHK staff, press freedom groups, scholars, and former director Franklin Wang. Joined by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) expressed grave concerns, arguing that Tang did not have relevant media experience and that his appointment represented an infringement on the station's editorial independence. RTHK has been struggling to become a truly independent public-service broadcaster in recent years, rather than a subordinate agency in the government structure, but the government has resisted calls for reform from journalists and civil society. According to the HKJA, since the 1930s there had not been another instance of a civil servant being "parachuted" in to lead RTHK. Instead, directors had been appointed from within the station.

* International Federation of Journalists 9/13/2011: IFJ fears erosion of editorial independence at Radio Television Hong Kong <http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/ifj-fears-erosion-of-editorial-independence-in-hong-kong>
* Hong Kong Journalists' Association 9/9/2011 (in Chinese): HKJA condemns the appointment of a civil servant as public radio director, and urges the government dismiss appointment <http://www.hkja.org.hk/site/portal/Site.aspx?id=A1-958&lang=en-US>

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BEYOND CHINA

Chongqing holds conference on Chinese media expansion

On September 18, the Chongqing municipal government, the State Council's Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, and the state-run China News Service organized the sixth International Forum of Chinese Media (IFOCM) in Chongqing. The two-day conference on the global expansion of Chinese-language media was attended by executives from overseas media outlets, including Taiwan's Want Daily, Malaysia's Media Chinese, Australia's Australian Chinese Daily News, and New Zealand's Chinese News Agency. The participants praised the rise of China, which has helped increase the influence of Chinese-language news outlets. The organizers stressed the importance of the spirits of "authenticity and objectivity," though the Chinese authorities are known for their strict media censorship, and many of the outlets in attendance have been accused by press freedom advocates of self-censoring on topics deemed unfavorable to Beijing.

* China News 9/10/2011: Sixth IFOCM issues Chongqing Declaration <http://www.ecns.cn/cns-wire/2011/09-19/2470.shtml>
* Chongqing Municipal Government 9/8/2011: World Chinese media forum is ready, 400 leaders of Chinese media will meet in Chongqing <http://en.cq.gov.cn/ChongqingToday/News/3390.htm>
* Want Daily 9/19/2011 (in Chinese): Attendants share diverse views at Chinese media forum <http://news.chinatimes.com/mainland/11050501/112011091900110.html>

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Blocked in China, Twitter plans Chinese-language interface

The U.S.-based microblogging service Twitter said on September 8 that it will launch Chinese-language versions using traditional and simplified characters in the coming weeks. Because the Chinese government continues to block access to Twitter for mainlanders, the new interface will mostly target overseas Chinese communities, especially in Taiwan and Hong Kong. According to Twitter, that market consists of 35 million users in 30 countries. Since the Chinese authorities blocked Twitter in July 2009, a small community of about 50,000 activists in China has continued to post news and articles on their Twitter accounts by using circumvention tools, though this group has been buffeted by a wave of detentions in mid-2011. The expansion of Chinese-language Twitter usage outside China could increase the amount of interaction between mainland activists and overseas Chinese communities. Most netizens within China have flocked to domestic microblogging sites, including Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ, which are required to follow the Chinese Communist Party's censorship directives.

* PC World 9/15/2011: Blocked from China, Twitter goes after overseas Chinese <https://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/240007/blocked_from_china_twitter_goes_after_overseas_chinese.html>

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China backs authoritarian 'internet code of conduct' at UN

On September 12, delegates from China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan submitted a joint proposal for a "Code of Conduct for Information Security" at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly. The proposal calls for greater state-based regulation of the internet rather than the current multistakeholder arrangement. The code, which would be voluntary, commits signatories to "curbing the dissemination of information that incites terrorism, secessionism, or extremism, or that undermines other countries' political, economic, and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment." Syracuse professor and internet-governance expert Martin Mueller warned on his blog that such a provision "would give any state the right to censor or block international communications for almost any reason," including in areas beyond its borders. The proposal also calls on countries to ensure that their networks are not used to carry out "acts of aggression." Notably, two of the states proposing the code-China and Russia-have become notorious as alleged points of origin for cyberattacks and acts of cyberespionage. China was rated Not Free and Russia Partly Free in Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2011 report. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were not included in the latest edition of that publication, but are ranked Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

* Ars Technica 9/21/2011: Russia, China, Tajikistan propose UN "Code of Conduct" for the 'net <http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/09/russia-china-tajikistan-propose-un-code-of-conduct-for-the-net.ars>
* Chinaeg 9/16/2011: China and Russia submitted "Code of Conduct" of the Net at the UN General Assembly <http://www.chinaeg.gov.cn/html/detial/info/201109/201109161639339509.html>
* Internet Governance Project 9/20/2011: Russian and China propose UN General Assembly resolution on "information security" <http://www.chinaeg.gov.cn/html/detial/info/201109/201109161639339509.html>

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NOTABLE ANALYSIS

Article examines agency tasked with suppressing spiritual groups

In its September 16 issue, the Jamestown Foundation's China Brief published a detailed analysis of the 610 Office, an extralegal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) security agency focused on suppressing Falun Gong and other spiritual and religious groups. The article, co-authored by Freedom House analyst Sarah Cook, notes that "numerous official websites from the past six months-in Beijing, Qingdao, Shandong, and Jiangsu among others-mention the 610 Office." Emerging from the CCP's tradition of "leading groups," the office is a party-based rather than a state-based entity, and its expansion reflects the CCP's revived use of security agencies to enforce ideological compliance. The article outlines how the 610 Office came into being, its involvement in coordinating and participating in the repression of spiritual and religious groups, and its use as a model for new stability-maintenance offices. Though this aspect of its operations is not explored in the article, the 610 Office is also known to be involved in restricting freedom of expression by conducting electronic surveillance and by identifying, confiscating, and punishing the dissemination of underground leaflets by Falun Gong practitioners.

* China Brief Volume: 11 Issue: 17: The 610 Office: Policing the Chinese Spirit <http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=38411&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=25&cHash=74e885364935de9c32e5aae19921ea6a>

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China Media Project explains new restrictions on key Beijing papers

A detailed analysis by David Bandurski of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project, posted on September 15, dissects various factors surrounding the recent "downgrade" of the Beijing News and the Beijing Times, two of the country's most prominent papers, to the purview of Beijing's Municipal Propaganda Department (see CMB No. 32). Exploring the back story behind the change in supervision that was missed by most foreign media reports, Bandurski presents a clear, concise explanation of the system of media registration in China, why it is not possible to have a private news outlet, and how phenomena like "cross-regional reporting" and "top-down monitoring" come into play. He concludes that the change will ultimately bring a reduction in critical news coverage from these publications, and argues that the "real lingering mystery behind this change is how leaders in Beijing managed to make it happen." Bandurski also references an online feature created by the China Media Project-the China Media Map-which enables users to click on a city, obtain a list of publications from that location, and get a readout of their party control structure.

* China Media Project 9/15/2011: What happened at the Beijing News? <http://research.jmsc.hku.hk/maps/cmp/#>