China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 38 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 38

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

Issue No. 38: October 27, 2011

* TV regulator pares back 'excessive' entertainment programming
* State news outlets belatedly turn against Qadhafi
* Microbloggers punished for spreading 'rumors'
* U.S., citing trade impact, asks China via WTO to explain web blocking
* Tudou announces film-streaming deal with Disney

Printable version



TV regulator pares back 'excessive' entertainment programming

The Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily reported on October 25 that the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) had issued new content restrictions for Chinese satellite television stations (see CMB No. 37). According to the new "entertainment restriction order," which will come into effect on January 1, 2012, each of China's 34 satellite channels will only be allowed to air two entertainment shows of no more than 90 minutes each week during prime time-from 7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Also during prime time, all of the stations must air at least one program that promotes "harmony, health, and mainstream culture." In addition, the order caps the total number of primetime entertainment programs at nine, and multiple shows using a similar format are not permitted. The aim is to reduce viewer exposure to talent and dating shows, which are deemed by the authorities to entail "excessive entertainment." The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that two hours of news would also need to be broadcast within the last six hours of each day. Notably, no public rating system is allowed, and stations cannot judge or cancel shows based on ratings. Given the heavy restrictions on news production and the constant risk that an expensive drama could be arbitrarily cancelled by censors, many television stations have favored game shows and "reality" programs as cheap and popular alternatives. However, the government has been curbing the rise of such shows in recent months (see CMB No. 34). The new set of SARFT restrictions may represent the nationalization of earlier provincial-level experiments in starkly reversing the commercialization of television and replacing market-based entertainment with overt propaganda material (see CMB No. 24).

* Southern Metropolis Daily 10/25/2011 (in Chinese): 'Entertainment restriction order' is here! Harsh rules exposed! <>
* Wall Street Journal 10/25/2011: China's censors take on prime-time TV <>
* Reuters 10/25/2011: China orders cutback on TV entertainment <>
* Xinhua 10/25/2011 (in Chinese): 'Entertainment restriction order' officially announced


State media slam brakes on 'Occupy' protest coverage

Reversing their initial enthusiasm, China's state-run media have cut back on coverage of the Occupy protest movement, which has expanded from the founding Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City to reach other U.S. cities and several major cities elsewhere in the world (see CMB No. 35). The movement is focused on social issues including elite corruption and income inequality that are serious problems in China as well. On October 19, Peking University journalism professor Hu Yong revealed on his Twitter microblog account that: "A magazine to which I am a contributor has received a notice from regulators saying that it must not carry any content regarding Occupy Wall Street." Prominent Chinese writer He Qinglian noted that before October 15, all popular Chinese web portals had run special features on the movement, bashing the United States for its capitalist flaws. However, on October 15, after the slogan "Occupy Beijing" was posted on Boxun, a U.S.-based Chinese-language news site where online calls for a protest-driven Jasmine Revolution in China first appeared in February, nearly all of the Occupy reports disappeared. Only one article, titled "Protest Spreads to 71 Countries, People Occupy London Stock Exchange," remained in obscure spots on news sites. The China Digital Times has found that the search function of the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo blocks all phrases that combine the word "occupy" with the name of a place in China, including "Occupy China." A quick search on Sina Weibo by China Media Bulletin editors found that the term "Occupy Beijing" generates only microblog posts about the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

* Financial Times 10/21/2011: China: Occupy Wall Street gets too close <>
* Hu Yong on Twitter 10/19/2011: <!/huyong/status/126666666254929920>
* Epoch Times 10/20/2011 (in Chinese): He Qinglian: Why China cooled down on reporting of 'Occupy Wall Street'? <>
* China Digital Times 10/21/2011: The 'Occupy' series: Sina Weibo's new list of banned search terms <>


U.S. journalist forcibly barred from visiting blind activist

Despite growing public concern about the well-being of blind, self-taught lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who has been under strict house arrest since his release from prison in September 2010, the authorities in Shandong Province's Linyi County have intensified control over access to his home in Dongshigu Village (see CMB No. 37). Tom Lasseter, a China correspondent for U.S.-based McClatchy Newspapers, was intercepted near the village on October 20. A plainclothes security agent tried to drag the journalist's translator out of their car, then followed them in a high-speed chase and finally signaled to an upcoming checkpoint that they were approaching. McClatchy reporters were barred from interviewing local authorities, as the Linyi County propaganda office denied receiving any of the four interview requests from the news service. At least six surveillance cameras and two mobile-telephone jammers are set up near Chen's home, which is also under 24-hour surveillance by guards. In addition to some 20 individuals tasked with inspecting visitors on a highway entrance near Chen's village, a total of 100 thugs were reportedly hired at the lucrative daily rate of 100 yuan ($15) to block visitors. Nevertheless, dozens of activists have continued attempts to visit him in recent weeks, with many encountering detention and confiscation of their property by police or hired thugs. On October 21, Shi Yu, a reporter at state-run Xinhua's financial magazine, ENN Weekly, told Radio Free Asia that he had voluntarily resigned after his employer received official pressure due to his attempted personal visit to Chen in early October (during the National Day holiday). He wrote on his blog that he was blindfolded for 20 hours after being beaten and robbed by 30 strangers.

* McClatchy Newspapers 10/24/2011: China cuts access to lawyer who fought one-child policy <>
* New York Times 10/24/2011: Chinese persist in bid to visit dissident <>
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 10/20/2011: Dongshigu guards block, expel groups trying to see Chen Guangcheng; writers harassed by Shanghai police for organizing visit to Chen <>
* Radio Free Asia (in Chinese) 10/21/2011: Xinhua reporter pressured and resigned after visit to Chen <>
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 10/14/2011 (in Chinese): Situation of Chen Guangcheng's surveillance and routes to enter Dongshigu Village <>



State news outlets belatedly turn against Qadhafi

Following former Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi's death on October 20, the websites of Chinese state-run media changed their references to him as Libya's "strongman" and began calling him a "madman." After the Libyan revolution broke out in early February, the national television broadcaster China Central Television only reported on Qadhafi's victories against the rebels, omitting news such as his alleged use of mercenaries to kill Libyan citizens (see CMB No. 19). As the authorities attempted to remain "neutral" during the prolonged conflict, several articles complimented him for his defiance of pressure from Western countries. However, the day after Qadhafi was killed, the websites of both state-run Xinhua news agency and the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily included images of his corpse, with captions that called him "insane." Some microblog comments on his death saluted Qadhafi or expressed sorrow. However, many other Chinese netizens posted congratulatory messages, and one wrote "Libyan people are Chinese people's models! The Libya today is Chinese people's tomorrow!" Meanwhile, a series of political cartoons that circulated widely online satirized China's policy toward Libya. Among the most popular was a depiction of a dying Qadhafi demanding to be taken to the 301 Military Hospital in Beijing, where top Chinese officials and favored foreign leaders are treated.

* China Daily 10/24/2011: Microblog comments on Gadhafi's death <>
* Associated Press 10/21/2011: Gadhafi goes from 'strongman' to 'madman' in China <>
* Voice of America 10/21/2011 (in Chinese): Chinese netizen's comments on Gadhafi death <>
* South China Morning Post 10/25/2011: Chinese cartoons of Gaddafi mock Beijing's policy <>


Beijing blogger loses appeal of jail term

On October 20, a Chinese court rejected an appeal by Beijing-based blogger Wang Lihong, upholding a nine-month sentence handed down in September (see CMB No. 32). Wang had been found guilty of "disturbing public order" for organizing a protest in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, in 2010 in support of three bloggers who were convicted of defamation. Her son, Qi Jianxiang, said his mother refused to apply for medical parole because that would require her to admit guilt despite her belief that she is innocent. Though she was previously little known, Wang's online articles and microblog posts on land grabs and official corruption had begun attracting a growing audience in recent years. She was detained only in March 2011, amid a crackdown on activists that was triggered by online calls for a protest-driven Jasmine Revolution in China. Some analysts see the court decision as a warning to Chinese microblog users that they risk imprisonment for disseminating sensitive content or using the online platforms to organize real-world protests. China's judiciary is not independent, and trials in freedom of expression–related cases typically lack due process, often amounting to little more than sentencing announcements.

* Reporters Without Borders 10/21/2011: Beijing court throws out appeal by jailed cyber-dissident Wang Lihong <,41263.html>
* Telegraph 10/20/2011: Chinese blogger jailed for 'disrupting traffic' fails to have sentenced overturned <>


Microbloggers punished for spreading 'rumors'

The State Internet Information Office announced on October 25 that three people had been "punished" for spreading rumors online. According to state-run media reports, a Shanghai-based internet user was detained for 15 days after he posted a forged personal income tax document that had "misled" the public. Another user was a university student in Yunnan Province who had posted a "fake" news item about a criminal suspect, and the third case involved a website operator who posted a microblog entry about an airplane crash before verifying sources. The authorities did not elaborate on the details of their investigation, but added that they are seeking a few other individuals who were allegedly responsible for posting three additional false news items found on the internet. In recent weeks, the government has repeatedly signaled that it is planning to increase control over microblogs (see CMB No. 37). Given the authorities' own propaganda practices, the aggressive campaign against "rumors" appears to be aimed at defending the Communist Party's status as the dominant source of news and information in China, as opposed to any genuine effort to distinguish between truth and falsehood.

* Agence France-Presse 10/25/2011: China police detained internet users <>
* Xinhua 10/25/2011: Three people punished for spreading rumors online <>


Twitter founder calls service's exclusion from China 'unfortunate'

Jack Dorsey, founder of the internationally popular, U.S.-based microblogging service Twitter, expressed his frustration over China's internet censorship during a media conference held in Hong Kong on October 20. At the conference, called "AsiaD: All Things Digital," Dorsey said "the unfortunate fact is, we're just not allowed to compete in this [Chinese] market, and that's not up to us to change." Twitter reportedly has more than 200 million users around the world, at least 100 million of them active, but the service is blocked in China and accessible only through circumvention tools. Many rights activists, including prominent artist Ai Weiwei, frequently post comments that are critical of the Chinese government on their Twitter accounts. The blocking has helped Twitter's Chinese counterparts, such as Sina Weibo, to dominate the Chinese microblog market of over 200 million users, though some observers also attribute their popularity to innovative features that are unavailable on Twitter. Dorsey praised the homegrown services, but insisted that his company wants to "build a service that people can communicate freely on," a goal that seems incompatible with Beijing's censorship rules.

* Wall Street Journal10/20/2011: Twitter founder: Can't compete in China <>
* Twitter 9/8/2011: One hundred million voices <>


Tudou announces film-streaming deal with Disney

Tudou, China's second-largest video-streaming site after Youku, announced on October 24 that it had signed a deal with U.S.-based media giant Disney to distribute the animated film Cars 2. Users will be able to watch the movie for 20 yuan ($3) online or 40 yuan ($6) on DVD. The agreement marks the first release of a film made by Disney's Pixar studio on a Chinese video website. Tudou is following the general strategy of Youku, which has expanded its video-on-demand database through licensing deals with U.S. companies, including National Geographic (see CMB No. 18). The deals provide foreign movie production companies with a convenient path into the tightly controlled Chinese entertainment market. As their American competitor, Google's YouTube, is blocked in China and the country lacks an established subscription-television sector, domestic video-streaming sites enjoy significant advantages as long as they abide by official censorship rules. On October 18, Tudou set up a joint venture with the online video portal LeTV, which state-run Xinhua news agency has called "China's Hulu equivalent." The Tudou-LeTV online platform will specialize in domestic movies and television series, advancing the development of an authorized online video industry in China.

* MarketWatch 10/24/2011: Tudou says to distribute Disney 'Cars2' on web <>
* Penn Olson 10/24/2011: Disney to bring Cars 2 to Tudou <>
* China Daily 10/19/2011: LeTV, Tudou to set up JV to buy movies, soap operas <>



U.S., citing trade impact, asks China via WTO to explain web blocking

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk on October 19 filed a request to China at the World Trade Organization, asking for an explanation of the Chinese government's policies related to the blocking of websites. The request includes five sets of questions covering topics such as the criteria and procedures used to decide on blocking a foreign website, the role of the new State Internet Information Office, and how information is determined to be "illegal." In a press release, the USTR said many U.S.-based companies are concerned about disruptions to the availability of their websites in China, as such incidents have a significant commercial impact. The president of the U.S. Computer and Communications Industry Association, Ed Black, praised the move by the USTR, calling it "a huge first step in the process of holding China accountable for imposing unlawful barriers to international trade." Black also noted that the Chinese government's censorship measures have "massive economic consequences that tend to be felt disproportionately by U.S. Internet companies. Chinese Internet restrictions are not transparent, lack procedures that provide parties due process and are often applied more broadly and arbitrarily against non-Chinese companies." In a September 2011 policy brief, Freedom House Deputy Director of Programs Daniel Calingaert recommended that U.S. and European Union trade representatives address internet censorship as a barrier to free trade.

* IDG News Service 10/19/2011: U.S. seeks information on Chinese Web disruptions <>
* USTR 10/19/2011: United States seeks detailed information on China's internet restrictions
* Freedom House 9/22/2011: Growing challenges to internet freedom <//>


Japan parliament hit by cyberattacks, allegedly from China

The computers in Japan's lower house of parliament have been hit by cyberattacks from a server allegedly based in China, according to a report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on October 25. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura confirmed on the same day that network identifications and passwords were left exposed for at least a month beginning in late July, which gave hackers access to e-mail and classified documents possessed by the chamber's 480 lawmakers. At least three lower house members' personal computers were infected by the virus in question, which was released when they opened an e-mail attachment. The revelation comes a month after reports emerged of cyberattacks on Japanese defense contractors. While earlier attacks came from computers scattered across China, Hong Kong, and the United States, Japanese media report that in the latest instance, investigators found that one of the screens used to begin the attack was written in the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China.

* Agence France-Presse 10/25/2011: China cyberattack hits Japan parliament <>
* New York Times 10/25/2011: Virus infects computers in Japan's parliament <>
* Asahi Shimbun 10/25/2011: Cyber-attack from server in China targets Lower House <>


Taiwan regulator hears rival views on media merger

On October 24, Taiwan's National Communications Commission (NCC) held a second public hearing on Want Want Broadband's proposal to purchase China Network Systems (CNS), the country's second-largest cable television provider (see CMB No. 37). The first hearing was held on September 6. NCC chairperson Su Herng said a decision on the merger would likely be finalized by the end of this year. Protesters from 12 media reform groups gathered outside the NCC building during the hearing. They urged the commission to reject the deal, arguing that its approval "could undermine the diversity of opinion offered to the public." Scholars who testified at the hearing also expressed reservations about the merger. Jang Show-ling, an economics professor at National Taiwan University (NTU), noted that under the rules of the German Commission on Concentration in the Media (KEK), a merger is blocked when a corporation attempts to control more than 30 percent of "intermedia influence." Jang asserted that the Want Want deal would substantially surpass that threshold. In her testimony, NTU Graduate Institute of Journalism professor Chang Chin-hwa cited a Control Yuan investigation's conclusion that Want Want Group's China Times had allowed the Chinese government to place paid news items, raising concerns about increased Chinese influence over Taiwanese media. Meanwhile, corporate representatives maintained that the merger would "improve Taiwan's digital media landscape." The Commercial Satellite Broadcast Union chief insisted that content on television stations carried by CNS would remain unchanged. Criticism of the deal has increased since Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang sued journalist Lin Chauyi for defamation on October 14, after he alleged that Hsieh had pressured NCC members to expedite review of the merger. Though Hsieh has retracted a request for a provisional seizure of Lin's assets, the International Federation of Journalists urged the Taiwanese government to repeal the criminal defamation provisions under which the suit was filed, as they inhibit media freedom.

* Taipei Times 10/25/2011: Group opposes Want Want deal <>
* United Daily News 10/25/2011 (in Chinese): Want Want-CNS merger hinder development for diverse public opinion <>
* IFEX 10/26/2011: IFJ calls for end to criminal defamation <>



Article explores Chinese netizens' subversive use of humor, code words

On October 26, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy article on the role that humor, satire, and code words play in online communications in China, particularly in light of the pervasive censorship that often prevents netizens from explicitly airing their views. The article profiles two individuals, animator Pi San and blogger Wen Yunchao, and their efforts to tiptoe around the government's fuzzy line between permissible and punishable speech. "Humor can amplify the power of the social media," says Wen. "It's indirect-just a joke, right?-so people lose their fear of getting involved." So widespread is the phenomenon that Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California in Berkeley, and his colleagues at the China Digital Times have created a lexicon of coded, often satirical internet terms.

* New York Times Magazine 10/26/2011: Where an internet joke is not just a joke <>
* China Digital Times: Grass-mud horse lexicon <>