China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 7 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 7

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

Issue No. 7: January 27, 2011

HIGHLIGHTS
* Tight censorship, news blackouts surround Hu Jintao's U.S. visit
* 'Times' columnist tests China's internet freedom
* Crackdown on Liu Xiaobo's supporters continues
* Blogger and artist Ai Weiwei's studio demolished
* China and Egypt to cooperate on book fair

Printable version

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BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
 
Tight censorship, news blackouts surround Hu Jintao's U.S. visit
 
Chinese president Hu Jintao's official visit to the United States prompted strict enforcement of media censorship in China. An English-language television news program aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was disrupted when it began to report on Hu's human rights comments at a joint presidential news conference on January 19. The blackout occurred as Hu conceded that "a lot still needs to be done" to improve conditions in China (see final section below). The BBC is primarily available in hotels and residential areas for foreigners in China. According to the Washington Post, the conference was not covered live on China Central Television, the country's largest state-run television broadcaster. Hu's human rights comments appeared on a few websites, but online features allowing readers to respond were tightly censored. Dozens of reader comments were reportedly posted on 163.com, for example, but Chinese users were only allowed to view two of them.
 
* Washington Post 1/20/2011: Chinese public kept in the dark on Hu Jintao's human rights admission <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/20/AR2011012001386.html>
 
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State media glamorize presidential trip
 
Coverage by Chinese state-run media of Hu Jintao's official visit to the United States was upbeat and often nationalistic. Focusing on the details of the trip's pageantry, state news outlets skirted Hu's response to foreign reporters' questions about human rights. China Central Television aired footage of the star-studded state dinner and of local Americans welcoming the Chinese leader. The Global Times, the sister newspaper of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, criticized the Western media for portraying China as a threat and hailed the presidential trip for shaping a "new political civilization." In an indication of the importance placed on the visit, according to the New York Times, journalists with China's party newspapers waited until the end of the state dinner on January 19 to submit editorials from Washington. Given the 13-hour time difference, the papers did not appear on newsstands in Beijing until late the following morning.
 
* Reuters 1/21/2011: China media lauds Hu's U.S. visit as 'masterstroke' <http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE70K05S20110121>
* New York Times 1/21/2011: For China, relief after a successful trip <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/22/world/asia/22china.html>
* Global Times 1/21/2011: Hu's US visit shapes new political civilization <http://opinion.globaltimes.cn/editorial/2011-01/615049.html>
 
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Journalists punished for 'inaccurate' article
 
On January 21, Long Can, a reporter at the Sichuan-based Chengdu Commercial Newspaper, was fired after publishing an allegedly inaccurate article on December 12. The report claimed that a group of lost mountain climbers in the Huangshan range was unable to summon help from the police of Anhui province until one climber contacted his relative, who, according to Long, "has power in Shanghai." The Shanghai and Anhui police forces, which had cooperated during the rescue effort, denied the report. Six editors at the newspaper, including editor in chief Chen Shuping, were either fined, demoted, or suspended.
 
* International Federation of Journalists 1/24/2011: Journalists sacked, fined without explanation <http://www.ifex.org/china/2011/01/24/long_can_dismissed>
* South China Morning Post 1/24/2011: Reporter sacked for 'inaccurate' report alleging abuse of power <http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=039c8f04d83bd210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=China&s=News>
 
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NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
 
'Times' columnist tests China's internet freedom
 
In mid-January, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof tested China's internet freedom by creating a personal blog and weibo, a Twitter-like microblog, on the Chinese web portal Sina. Kristof encountered stricter rules than in the past, such as a requirement that he supply an identification-card number and a mobile-telephone number to open a microblog account. However, his experiment highlighted some of the inconsistencies in the authorities' efforts to control online expression. For example, some moderators allowed microblog postings that referenced jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement to slip through, though a posting on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 was removed within 20 minutes. The microblog was ultimately "harmonized" by censors an hour after a Chinese friend with a million followers directed readers to it, drawing the attention of the authorities. Kristof's separate personal blog, which included a veiled birthday greeting to Liu, managed to remain under the censors' radar until he published his newspaper column on the test, at which point it was shut down as well.
 
 
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Playing of anti-U.S. song at White House sparks online discussion
 
During the White House state dinner for visiting Chinese president Hu Jintao on January 19, the popular Chinese pianist Lang Lang performed the theme song from a well-known anti-American movie, Battle on Shangganling Mountain. The piece is closely associated with Chinese propaganda during the Korean War. The incident's irony—and Americans' apparent unawareness of the song's political implications—has sparked online discussion in China. According to the Epoch Times, nationalist netizens have been circulating clips of the performance, calling it "the right place, right time, right song," a play on words echoing the Communist Party's anti-American propaganda. Lang Lang wrote on his personal blog that the song was meant to convey the message that "China is formidable."
 
* Epoch Times 1/23/2011: Chinese pianist plays propaganda tune at White House <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/49822>
* Wall Street Journal 1/22/2011: Lang Lang's performance: Display of harmony or subtle dis? <http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/01/22/lang-langs-performance-at-the-white-house-display-of-harmony-or-subtle-dis>
 
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Wife of jailed online activist Hu Jia renews bid for medical parole
 
Blogger Zeng Jinyan, the wife of jailed online activist Hu Jia, submitted a seventh request for medical parole on his behalf on January 17 after finding his health to be visibly poor during a recent visit. According to Zeng, he appeared pale and sweaty, and complained of sharp abdominal pain that forced him to shorten their time together on January 14. Hu, a well-known human rights activist and winner of the European Union's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 2006. After months under house arrest, he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in April 2008 for "inciting subversion of state power" on the basis of several articles he had written and published online. He had also served as a key point of contact and source of information for foreign journalists.
 
* Deutsche Presse-Agentur 1/17/2011: New appeal for parole of ailing Chinese dissident <http://www.sify.com/news/new-appeal-for-parole-of-ailing-chinese-dissident-news-international-lbrtOhgcjee.html>
 
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Crackdown on Liu Xiaobo's supporters continues
 
The Chinese government has continued its crackdown on rights activists associated with jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, the recipient of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Prominent Beijing-based blogger Wang Lihong has been under de facto house arrest since October 2010, when she and a few other netizens attended a celebratory gathering to mark Liu's award. Wang remains under close surveillance and is required to travel in a police vehicle every time she leaves her house. Meanwhile, Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who has been out of contact since December 2010, is known to have had her mobile-telephone service cut off.
 
* China Human Rights Defenders 1/18/2011: Rights defender enters fourth month of soft detention <http://chrdnet.org/2011/01/19/china-human-rights-briefing-january11-18>
* Boxun News 1/18/2011 (In Chinese): Netizen under house arrest since Nobel announcement <http://news.boxun.com/news/gb/china/2011/01/201101181206.shtml>
 
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Blogger and artist Ai Weiwei's studio demolished
 
On January 11, Shanghai authorities demolished the studio of prominent artist, blogger, and activist Ai Weiwei. The demolition came as a surprise to Ai, who was in Beijing at the time, though it had been threatened several times. Ai, who designed the Beijing Olympic stadium known as the Bird's Nest, has emerged in recent years as a potent critic of the Chinese government, corruption, and human rights abuses. As a result, he has had his blogs shut down and his postings deleted. He has also incurred beatings, and now had his studio demolished with little recourse.
 
* CBC News 1/13/2011: Chinese activist-artist's studio razed <http://www.cbc.ca/arts/artdesign/story/2011/01/13/ai-weiwei-studio-shanghai-demolished.html>
 
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Beijing launches own version of Google Earth
 
On January 18, China's State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) introduced an enhanced, three-dimensional version of Map World, an application similar to Google Earth. In May 2010, SBSM announced that all mapping-service providers in the country were required to obtain licenses. Since then, Google's mapping service in China has been left in limbo, as the status of its application remains unclear. Beijing has also unveiled two new media research plans to increase its influence on the web. On January 11, the state-run Xinhua news agency and the Beijing municipal government launched Xinhuanet Industrial Park in southern Beijing, which will focus on the expansion of the Xinhua and central government websites and development of a Xinhua–China Mobile search engine.
 
* Xinhua 1/11/2011 (In Chinese): Xinhua unveils new media industrial park <http://news.xinhuanet.com/2011-01/11/c_12969805.htm>
* Global Times 1/19/2011: China officially launches own online mapping service <http://www.globaltimes.cn/www/english/sci-edu/china/2011-01/614056.html>
* Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 10/22/2010: China launches its own version of Google Earth <http://www.rferl.org/content/China_Launches_Its_Own_Version_Of_Google_Earth/2198544.html>
 
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TIBET
 
Three Tibetan writers sentenced after flawed trial
 
On December 30, 2010, a local court in the town of Ngaba in eastern Tibet sentenced three Tibetan writers—Kalsang Jinpa, Jangtse Donkho, and Buddha—to between three and four years in prison on charges of "inciting subversion." They were detained in June and July 2010 after their articles about the Tibet protests of 2008 were published in a Tibetan-language magazine, Shar Dungri. According to Radio Free Asia, the court had assigned them poorly skilled language interpreters during their first hearing on October 28. At the second and final hearing on December 30, the three, along with their lawyers and families, were not allowed to speak. Since 2008, the Chinese government has arrested over 60 Tibetan writers and intellectuals, as their expressions of Tibetan identity are considered a threat to China's state security.
 
* Reporters Without Borders 1/4/2011: Prison sentences for three Tibetan writers <http://en.rsf.org/chine-prison-sentences-for-three-tibetan-04-01-2011,38287.html>
* Voice of America 1/5/2011: China sentences 3 Tibetan writers up to 4 years in prison <http://www.voanews.com/tibetan-english/news/China-Sentences-3-Tibetan-Writers-up-to-4-Years-in-Prison-112940484.html>
* Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy 1/12/2011: Annual Report 2010: Human Rights Situation in Tibet <http://www.tchrd.org/press/2011/pr20110112.html>
 
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BEYOND CHINA
 
Hu Jintao gets a lesson on press freedom
 
On January 19, Chinese president Hu Jintao had a taste of press freedom when he faced American journalists at the White House. During a joint news conference with U.S. president Barack Obama, Ben Feller of the Associated Press asked the Chinese leader about his stance on American concerns over human rights issues in China, but he failed to respond, turning instead to a friendly question from a China Central Television reporter. Bloomberg's Hans Nichols subsequently pressed Hu to answer Feller's question, and he was forced to reply, though the resulting comments on human rights were censored in China (see first section above). Hu blamed a "technical translation and interpretation problem" for his earlier silence. However, the Washington Post found that his claim not to have heard the initial question was false.
 
* Washington Post 1/29/2011: Hu Jintao meets the free press <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/19/AR2011011905552_pf.html>
 
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China's overseas branding campaign earns mixed reviews at home
 
The Chinese government's overseas advertising campaign has drawn both praise and criticism from Chinese netizens since its debut on January 17 in New York City's Times Square. It evoked nationalistic responses among some users, while others raised concerns over its cost. Zhu Youguang, chief planner of the main 60-second commercial, denied rumors that the State Council Information Office (SCIO) had paid 45 billion yuan (US$6.8 billion) for the promotional series, adding that SCIO gave him "ample freedom" during its production process. Hong Huang, a Beijing-based media mogul and celebrity blogger, joked that the commercial resembles a Chinese restaurant owner's personal ad. Kai-fu Lee, former vice president of Google China, suggested a more sophisticated public-relations strategy that would include hiring officials "who are able to communicate in a language Americans can understand."
 
* People's Daily Online 1/21/2011 (In Chinese): China didn't spend 45 billion on image film <http://news.qq.com/a/20110121/001453.htm>
* Wall Street Journal 1/19/2011: Chinese web users frown on image ad <http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/01/19/chinese-web-users-frown-on-china-image-ad>
 
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China and Egypt to cooperate on book fair
 
On January 24, the Chinese embassy in Egypt announced that China would participate in the annual Cairo International Book Fair in Egypt, set to begin on January 29. According to state-run Xinhua, the event is known as “the most important of its kind in the Arab region." China's General Administration of Press and Publication, which enforces state media regulations, will cooperate with Chinese publication groups and Egypt's Ministry of Culture to select about 10,000 books produced in China on topics such as politics, economics, and science. The Chinese authorities have denounced the organizers of other overseas cultural gatherings when they fail to exclude guests and content that Beijing finds politically objectionable.
 
* Xinhua 1/24/2011: China, Egypt seek cultural cooperation via Cairo book fair <http://china.globaltimes.cn/diplomacy/2011-01/615798.html>
* Time 10/20/2009: Frankfurt Book Fair: China finds trouble with Dai Qing <http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1931146,00.html>