China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 42 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 42

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

Issue No. 42: December 8, 2011

* New state TV chief criticized for blunt views on propaganda
* To end blocking, U.S. app firm launches censored version
* Chinese netizens watch, praise Taiwan presidential debate
* As U.S.-China internet forum meets, Congress mulls tech sale rules
* Freedom House blog questions U.S. op-eds praising Chinese system

Printable version



New state TV chief criticized for blunt views on propaganda

Hu Zhanfan, who was named as the new chief of state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) on November 24, has drawn sharp online criticism for his past comments on journalism and propaganda, which resurfaced following his appointment (see CMB No. 41). Earlier in 2011, Hu had urged journalists to “drop their pretensions of professionalism and submit to being mouthpieces of the government.” He also argued that viewing reporters as journalistic professionals was “a fundamentally erroneous role definition.” In his former role as chief editor of the Chinese Communist Party–run newspaper Guangming Daily, he made these remarks twice—once during a January press seminar on stamping out so-called “fake news,” and again in an editorial in the paper. His statements, which received little attention at the time, were recently found by a netizen and posted on December 3, then reposted on microblogs more than 10,000 times within 24 hours, alongside comments decrying the lack of independent media in China. Some Chinese netizens went so far as to compare Hu to the infamous Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, referring to the idea, often attributed to Goebbels, that “if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” Jiao Guobiao, a former professor of media and journalism at Peking University, said Hu’s remarks were not surprising given that such a philosophy is often drilled into journalists, but his explicit comments about propaganda trumping professionalism in a meeting with peers caught people’s attention.

* Telegraph 12/6/2011: Chinese journalists must be ‘mouthpieces’ of the state
* Voice of America (in Chinese) 12/3/2011: ‘Mouthpiece’ quotes of new CCTV chief popular on microblogs
* China Media Project 12/5/2011: Goebbels in China?


State media admit to severe Beijing smog

The worsening air pollution in Beijing, which was previously described as “fog” or “mist” by state-run media, was finally recognized on December 6 as “smog.” The Communist Party mouthpiece China Daily even featured four days of comparative photographs overlooking the capital’s Chaoyang business district, with one showing zero visibility. The shift in coverage occurred amid smog-related flight delays and an outcry by Chinese internet users expressing their frustration with the lack of accurate air-quality reporting from the authorities. According to Agence France-Presse, over 70 million comments related to air pollution were posted to microblog services operated by Tencent and Sina on December 6. One user complained that there were always “huge differences between the public data and weather broadcasts and the feelings of people.” The U.S. embassy in Beijing issues its own pollution statistics via Twitter; that service is blocked in China, but the data have been reposted on sites available to Chinese users. On December 5, environmental consultant Steven Andrews posted an analysis comparing the U.S. embassy data to China’s official reporting. He concluded: “In the last two years, Beijing officials have announced good or even excellent air quality nearly 80 percent of the time, notwithstanding the persistent smog. But a monitor atop the United States embassy illuminates a different perspective: over 80% of days had unhealthy levels of pollution, and
the air quality has been hazardous more often than good.”

* MSNBC News 12/6/2011: China begins to admit ‘fog’ is really smog
* Agence France-Presse 12/6/2011: Chinese go online to vent anger over pollution
* China Daily 12/6/2011: Beijing blackout as air quality unmasked
* China Dialogue 12/5/2011: Beijing’s hazardous blue sky



Netizen promotes offline tactics in ‘Free Chen Guangcheng’ campaign

On November 28, a netizen nicknamed Xiao Cuo was interrogated for seven hours by police in Beijing after putting up fliers on electrical poles, village walls, and university bulletin boards in Shandong Province’s Linyi County to publicize the plight of blind, self-taught activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng (see CMB No. 40). Chen has been under house arrest in Linyi since his release from prison in September 2010, and in recent months he has been the subject of an advocacy campaign by Chinese netizens and international supporters. On his blog, Xiao Cuo recounted details of his contribution to the cause and urged others to “quietly” raise awareness among local villagers. Reuters, citing Nanjing-based activist He Peirong and other sources close to Chen, reported on December 5 that the authorities have loosened some restrictions on Chen and his family. He has been allowed to receive ulcer medication provided by his supporters, easing fears that he could be near death. His 77-year-old mother is reportedly allowed to go out and buy supplies, and his daughter is permitted to attend school, though under constant guard. Chen himself is still prohibited from leaving the house or going to a hospital for a full medical check.

* Reuters 12/5/2011: China eases grip on blind Chinese activist: sources
* China Geeks 11/30/2011: New tactics to rally around blind activist lawyer
* Xiao Cuo’s blog


Party mouthpieces signal crackdown on microblog ‘rumors’

Top propaganda officials and state-run media have continued to make statements indicating that greater controls on microblogs are coming (see CMB No. 41). Wang Chen, the State Internet Information Office director and deputy head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Propaganda Department, recently called for more aggressive management of social-networking sites and instant-messenger tools. In a November 28 editorial in the party mouthpiece People’s Daily, he emphasized that “various microblogging sites must strengthen their management of information posting, not providing a transmission channel to illegal or harmful information.” Other commentaries this week by the Xinhua news agency and the People’s Daily online edition compared internet “rumors” to drugs like cocaine, asserting that they “poison the social environment.” Although some online information might be considered rumors by most observers, the term as used by Chinese officialdom typically also encompasses factual information that could be detrimental to the legitimacy of the Communist Party. For instance, Hangzhou-based blogger Zan Aizong told Radio Free Asia in late November that his Sina and Tencent microblog accounts had been deleted after he published posts criticizing internet controls and recounting the 1957 Great Leap Forward, a set of Communist Party policies that resulted in the famine-related deaths of more than 20 million people. The famine is framed as a natural disaster in party propaganda. Zan received a notice from Sina, which said, “Following inquiries, Sina is unable to carry such sensitive information, and suggests that you use other channels to publish this information.”

* People’s Daily 11/28/2011 (in Chinese): Actively carry out microblog public opinion guidance work
* China Digital Times 12/6/2011: More signals on social media control
* Radio Free Asia 11/29/2011: Blogger’s accounts canceled


Police step up public relations effort online

In China, where police brutality and extrajudicial detentions are widespread, microblogs are now being used by the authorities to “release correct information and dispel misunderstandings” (see CMB No. 34). According to the Financial Times, the country’s police forces, with more than 5,000 accounts, are the most active users among 19,000 government employees and departments with their own microblogs. Many provide their followers with a glimpse of their routine tasks. A Beijing officer surnamed Bo said he recently wrote about his colleague, who had “chased nine buses for 30 km” to find and return a woman’s young granddaughter. He received positive comments such as “That is what a good people’s policeman should be like!” Police in Hubei Province’s Wuhan City have even started relying on netizens to solve cases. On December 1, they asked readers to help search for a suspect who was allegedly responsible for a deadly bomb blast. The post, featuring a headshot of the suspect and surveillance video of streets near the crime scene, offers a 100,000 yuan ($15,700) reward for information leading to a breakthrough in the case. Despite such outreach, there are clear limits to what officers may communicate to the public. For example, on December 3, an officer in Shandong Province named He Guanshan and his wife were detained for nine hours by his colleagues. Though his wife was released, the officer was reportedly sent to a reeducation detention center for blogging about abuse of power by local authorities.

* Financial Times 12/5/2011: China’s tweeting cops blog to keep peace
* Wuhan Evening News 12/5/2011 (in Chinese): Wuhan police seek breakthrough in bombing case through social media
* Chinese Human Rights Defender 12/4/2011 (in Chinese): Laizhou officer detained in education class for online post that resulted in effect
* Freedom at Issue 10/11/2011: China’s growing army of paid internet commentators


To end blocking, U.S. app firm launches censored version

Flipboard, an application for Apple’s iPad tablet computer that aggregates content from news outlets and social-media platforms, launched its first international edition in China on December 6. In May, Flipboard’s chief executive reported that the app had been blocked in China after Chinese netizens used it to access Twitter and Facebook, U.S.-based social media platforms that are blocked in China (see CMB No. 23). However, the company’s new Chinese-language version will collaborate with China’s popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo and a social-networking website operated by another Chinese firm, Renren, to aggregate content that has already been filtered by the Chinese partners to meet censorship requirements. Flipboard cofounder Mike McCue said the first international edition of the app had been aimed at China because of the country’s 500 million internet users and the popularity of Apple products in the Chinese market. The move also came out of a “sense of urgency,” as there are several Flipboard clones emerging in China. Flipboard’s experience illustrates the broader challenges faced by international web application firms, which are forced to find ways to cooperate with the Chinese government’s strict censorship requirements or risk being banned from the market and replaced with Chinese competitors. Separately, on December 5, a patent court in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, ruled against Apple’s claim to the “iPad” name. According to the court report, Shenzhen-based Proview Technology, which sued the U.S. technology giant for 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in October, had registered the name in 2000, and Apple’s subsequent purchase of the trademark from Proview’s Taiwanese parent company did not hold for the Chinese subsidiary.

* Wall Street Journal 12/6/2011: News app’s overseas debut: China
* Reuters 12/6/2011: Flipboard app launches first international edition in China
* ZDNet Asia 12/7/2011: Report: Apple to lose iPad trademark in China
* Southern Metropolis Daily 12/6/2011 (in Chinese): Shenzhen court rejects lawsuit, Apple to lose iPad trademark in China


News anchor’s online joke draws subversive comments, censorship

Zhang Quanling, a news anchor at state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), has had the comments on her microblog account censored after making a politically sensitive joke. On November 17, she wrote that both Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi had been killed soon after her colleague, CCTV foreign correspondent Xu Shengyi, arrived in Pakistan and Libya. “So we have all been guessing,” she said, “where she will be heading to next: Syria or Iran?” Her wisecrack was shared more than 26,000 times in one day, with many users pleading for Xu’s return to China and thereby hinting at their desire for the current leadership to be ousted. The sarcastic comments included ones such as “Come back, the motherland needs you the most!” and “For the Chinese people, quickly come back!” China Digital Times reports that all of the comments were later deleted.

* China Digital Times 11/23/2011: Inviting bad fortune? Netizens plead for CCTV journalist’s return



ATV fined for falsely reporting death of Jiang Zemin

Hong Kong-based Asia Television (ATV) has been fined a record HK$300,000 (US$39,000) by the Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority (HKBA) for erroneously reporting the death of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin in July (see CMB No. 32). The HKBA announced the penalty on December 5, citing ATV’s inaccurate report and its late correction of the error. The regulator noted that in the course of the inquiry, the station had failed to provide information on the steps it took to verify its story before broadcasting. The findings also revealed that Kwong Hoi-ying, a senior vice president of ATV, had pressed news managers at the station to broadcast the unverified report. The HKBA did not find direct evidence that ATV’s major shareholder, Beijing-friendly businessman Wang Zheng, was involved in the incident, but a separate investigation of his role in the control and management of ATV was under way. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco) is set to hold a committee hearing on December 12 to discuss the broadcast regulator’s report, and particularly to question Kwong and ATV executive director James Shing Pan-yu about inconsistencies between their Legco testimony in September and the HKBA’s findings.

* International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) 12/6/2011: IFJ condemns interference with editorial independence
* South China Morning Post 12/6/2011: Record fine for Jiang ‘death’ report
* HKBA 12/5/2011: A report of the Broadcasting Authority’s investigation into complaints on misreporting of news on the death of a former national leader by Asia Television Limited (ATV)


Media owner faces smear campaign for prodemocracy camp donations

According to Wall Street Journal, publications controlled by the Chinese government and its allies in Hong Kong are engaging in a smear campaign against democracy supporters in advance of elections next year. In recent weeks, various publications—including Eastweek magazine, owned by a member of a mainland government advisory body—have been circulating details of donations by media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai to Hong Kong’s prodemocracy parties and the Catholic Church. Although the donations are legal, the reports have accused Lai of being a conduit for foreign money, and the recipients of being American “avatars,” or in the case of prominent Catholic cardinal Joseph Zen, “a political mercenary paid to fight for an unjust cause.” In its reporting on Lai, Eastweek claimed that he did not have the financial resources to back up his US$5.4 million in donations over seven years to the prodemocracy camp, alleging that the funds had come from the U.S. government. The Wall Street Journal points out, however, that Forbes magazine estimated Lai’s wealth at US$600 million in 2009, based on the popular publications he owns in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Lai announced in November that he is suing Eastweek for libel. The Journal piece concludes, “In the privacy of the ballot box, the pro-democracy politicians poll a majority of the popular vote. Outside it, Beijing and the Hong Kong government have practically made them pariahs.”

* Wall Street Journal 12/5/2011: ‘Black hands’ in Hong Kong
* Standard 11/15/2011: Magazine sticks to the facts
* Sing Tao Daily 11/15/2011 (in Chinese): Eastweek magazine sued by Jimmy Lai for libel



Leaked photos show humiliation of detainees after ’08 unrest

Photographs depicting the public humiliation of Tibetan monks and civilians detained by Chinese security forces have been leaked from Tibet. A U.S.-based Chinese dissident website,, published eight photos on December 2, most of which it said were taken on April 5, 2008, shortly after an outbreak of ethnic unrest in the region. According to the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet, the locations in the photos were the ethnic Tibetan prefectures of Ganzi and Ngaba in Sichuan Province. One image shows Tibetans with their hands tied at their backs, heads down, and signs around their necks being escorted out of a building by Chinese paramilitary policemen. Some photos show Tibetan monks on their knees and on a military truck, with placards indicating their names and “crimes” hung around their necks. Most were charged with being “separatists” and “assembling to attack state institutions,” which can result in long prison sentences. The practice of parading political “criminals” in the streets with signs around their necks was common during mass Communist Party campaigns like the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.

* Boxun 12/2/2011: Photos of Chinese security forces in Sichuan exposed
* Phayul 12/4/2011: Leaked photos show Chinese brutality in Tibet
* Agence France-Presse 12/4/2011: China parades Tibetans accused of separatism: photos



As U.S.-China internet forum meets, Congress mulls tech sale rules

On December 7–8, the fifth annual U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum was held in Washington, DC. The conference was sponsored by Microsoft and the quasi-governmental Internet Society of China. Speaking at the conference were Vice Minister Qian Xiaoqian of China’s State Council Information Office, which plays a central role in internet regulation and censorship, and U.S. Under Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats. The under secretary focused his address on four areas: international standards, intellectual property, cybersecurity, and internet freedom. On the last item, Hormats noted that “internet restrictions in China appear to have worsened over the last year.” U.S. congressman Frank Wolf called it a “mistake” for American officials and executives to attend the gathering because the Chinese government is “using our technology to spy on and torture their own citizens.” Internet expert Rebecca MacKinnon highlighted the close connection between the Chinese forum participants and China’s harsh censorship apparatus, while also noting that such closed-door meetings can give American businesses like Microsoft a chance to “explain [to Chinese officials] why they can’t just behave like a Chinese company.” Separately, on December 8, a proposed Global Online Freedom Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill aims to hinder the ability of U.S. companies to sell surveillance and censorship technologies to repressive governments like China’s. Freedom House issued a statement supporting the initiative.

* Washington Times 12/6/2011: U.S. Microsoft to meet Chinese web regulators
* U.S. Department of State 12/7/2011: U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum
* Wall Street Journal 12/1/2011: Bill would curb exports of spy software
* Freedom House 12/8/2011: Freedom House endorses Global Online Freedom Act


Chinese netizens watch, praise Taiwan presidential debate

On December 3, after Taiwan held a televised debate among three top candidates for the upcoming January 14 presidential election, many netizens in China who watched the broadcast online expressed admiration for Taiwan’s democracy. A user nicknamed Guigumukong said, “This is a way we can learn how national leadership should be elected.” Taiwanese daily Liberty Times reported that news from Taiwan was blocked in China during the last presidential election in 2008, but this year people were able to watch the debate streamed on the websites of Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV and Macau Asia Satellite Television. China’s popular web portal Sina has also created a special webpage, which attracted more than 140,000 comments within days. In contrast to commercial outlets’ enthusiasm, state-run media so far have provided little coverage of the election, which they refer to as a “regional election in Taiwan.”

* Want Daily 12/5/2011: Taiwanese debate receives a range of response in China
* Liberty Times 12/5/2011 (in Chinese): Chinese netizens: Taiwan will never want to reunify
* Taipei Times 12/5/2011: 2012 Elections: ‘Consensus’ polarizing, analyst says


Academic freedom suffers on American college campuses in China

On November 28, the Bloomberg news service published an article examining how academic freedom has come under pressure at American colleges’ satellite campuses in China, particularly outside the classroom. In 2010, Brendon Stewart, who earned a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University, was prevented from distributing a student-run publication at a joint campus run by Hopkins and Nanjing University in Jiangsu Province. The Hopkins-Nanjing Center first rejected Stewart’s request for funding. Then, shortly after an American student openly criticized the Chinese Communist Party on campus, Chinese professors and students asked Stewart to remove their contributing articles to avoid being implicated. Several editors requested that their names also be removed. The school administrators deleted the word “center” from the journal’s title, to ensure that it did not resemble an official publication, and strictly limited its circulation to on-campus students and staff. In other incidents cited in the Bloomberg article, students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center were stopped from showing a film on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in a lounge in 2009, Shanghai’s Jiaotong University chose not to renew a contract for a joint law center with New York University due to criticism by Professor Jerome A. Cohen about criminal justice in China, and prominent human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping was barred from speaking on a panel cosponsored by Beijing’s Tsinghua University and the American Bar Association to celebrate Cohen’s 80th birthday in May 2010.

* Bloomberg 11/29/2011: China halts U.S. college freedom at class door
* Wall Street Journal 6/2/2010: Stanley Lubman: China’s lawyers muzzled


Overseas Chinese reporters denied access to Scotland panda event

On December 4, two giant pandas from the Conservation and Research Center in Sichuan Province arrived in Scotland on a 10-year loan, at the cost of $9.4 million, to the Edinburgh Zoo. While international media groups attended a press conference on the arrival, New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), an overseas Chinese station run by Falun Gong practitioners and known for exposing human rights abuses in China, was reportedly denied access. NTDTV said it was initially welcomed by the public-relations firm Weber Shandwick. However, after the attendance list was shown to the Giant Panda Partnership, the organizing entity that includes representatives of the Chinese government, NTDTV was told that a mistake had been made in sending out its invitation. A spokesperson for Weber Shandwick said she was not given a reason for the refusal. NTDTV reporters have encountered similar obstructions to their reporting of events involving Chinese delegates in the past. At a press conference after a European Union–China summit in Belgium in October 2010, when the organizer refused to block an NTDTV reporter from attending the press conference, the Chinese officials canceled the event.

* NTDTV 12/5/2011: Press freedom challenged as pandas arrive in Scotland
* Epoch Times 12/6/2011: Pandas arrive, press freedom chilled, in Edinburgh



English book of Liu Xiaobo’s writings to be published

On January 2, under the title No Enemies, No Hatred, Harvard University Press will publish the first English-language collection of essays and poems by 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and jailed Chinese democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo. The 345-page volume was edited by a team of 14 translators led by prominent China expert Perry Link, Liu’s wife Liu Xia, and Tienchi Martin-Liao of the Washington-based Laogai Research Foundation. The book provides details of Liu’s experience
with Chinese repression and his personal analysis of culture, politics, and society in contemporary China. Its foreword has been written by former Czech president Vaclav Havel, whose democracy manifesto, Charter 77, inspired Liu and other Chinese activists to draft Charter 08, a statement that called for broad democratic reforms in China. Liu was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power.”

* Liu Xiaobo: No Enemies, No Hatred
* New York Times 11/3/2011: A new book from dissident, a warning on China
* Guardian 11/12/2011: Liu Xiaobo: new book lifts China’s gag on jailed Nobel peace prize winner


Freedom House blog questions U.S. op-eds praising Chinese system

In a blog posting on December 7, Freedom House staff editor Tyler Roylance responded to two recent op-eds by prominent Americans—former labor leader Andy Stern and businessman Steven Rattner—that touted China’s economic and governance model. Roylance argues that both men’spositive assessments are “dangerously misleading,” warning that the system’s lack of transparency should raise doubts about its actual performance and prospects. He also questions the examples Stern and Rattner used to support their arguments, noting that Chongqing leader Bo Xilai, whose accomplishments Stern hails for epitomizing “China’s people-oriented development,” has championed a neo-Maoist “red culture” movement, and that conditions at Foxconn, a manufacturer Rattner singles out for its efficiency and low wages, led to a series of employee suicides in 2010.

* Freedom at Issue 12/7/2011: Andy Stern and Steven Rattner idolize the Chinese bull