China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 90
CHINA MEDIA BULLETIN
Freedom House’s biweekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People’s Republic of China
Issue No. 90: July 25, 2013
* Education campaigns stoke indoctrination fears in China, Hong Kong
* Online antigraft activists and muckrakers face violence, arrest, censorship
* Fruit vendor’s fatal beating spurs online outcry, censorship
* Chinese censors delete microblogs of Japanese newspaper
* Freedom House report finds internet controls advancing under new leadership
Photo of the Week: One Murder, 500 Million Witnesses
Credit: China Digital Times
* Chinese directors skeptical of reduced film censorship rules
* Yunnan police officer dismissed after threatening journalists
* Independent film school closed, filmmaker freed on bail
* Falun Gong adherents face trial for satellite dishes amid wider crackdown
* Ministry adds teeth to real-name registration rule for telecom users
* Latest official statistics on Chinese internet users are released
* Sina’s microblog demerit system curbs ‘rumors’
* Hong Kong report cites press freedom decline, increased attacks under Leung
* Scholar Perry Link reports on review of online censorship directives
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BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
Chinese directors skeptical of reduced film censorship rules
China’s State Council announced on July 17 that the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SGAPPRFT) would remove 20 items from its list of oversight responsibilities in order to relax rules on film censorship. Among other changes, the regulator would no longer require the submission of screenplays and lists of equipment for review. Filmmakers would only need to submit a synopsis prior to shooting for films on “ordinary” topics, which were identified in the statement as anything besides “diplomacy, ethnic topics, religion, military, judiciary, historical figures, and cultural celebrities.” Several Chinese film directors reacted with skepticism. Jia Zhangke, who won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival in May for his movie A Touch of Sin, said the definition of “ordinary” was vague and would ultimately be up to government censors. Despite the announcement, all finished products still require official approval for public screening in the country (see CMB No. 87).
* Guardian 7/19/2013: Chinese directors question promised reforms over censorship
* Beijing Evening News 7/17/2013 (in Chinese): SGAPPRFT lifts censorship on films about ‘regular topics’
* Los Angeles Times 7/17/2013: China says it’ll relax film, TV censorship; directors unimpressed
Education campaigns stoke indoctrination fears in China, Hong Kong
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to promote President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” slogan to reinforce the ruling ideology, orchestrating presentations and disseminating educational materials across the country (see CMB No. 84). On July 15, the Central Propaganda Department, the Ministry of Education, and the Central Communist Youth League released a recommended list of 200 books, movies, and television shows for the nation’s young students. According to the announcement, the objective was to “deeply and thoroughly realize the spirit of the Party’s 18th National Congress, to strongly promote the national spirit and the spirit of the age among the youth, and to encourage all youth to fight to realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” The list, which included titles such as Stories of Marx, China Has a Mao Zedong, and Zhou Enlai: The Early Years, was posted on popular Chinese web portals. Many users accused the government of attempting to brainwash children. Former Google China chief Kai-fu Lee, whose microblogging account has over 49 million followers, wrote that he had recommended a list of titles more suitable for children but was rebuffed by the authorities. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong on July 10, independent media began reporting residents’ objections to a new comic-book-style Primary Student Handbook of the Basic Law of Hong Kong that was being distributed in primary schools. The 62-page booklet frequently wanders from the subject of the Basic Law and contains CCP-style nationalist rhetoric, stating for instance that the territory’ handover to China in 1997 had “washed away the shame” of British rule, and that bringing Taiwan under Beijing’s control is “a sacred mission.” The new handout was seen as part of the central government’s alleged efforts to introduce a pro-CCP curriculum in Hong Kong. In September 2012, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents had protested against a mandatory national education curriculum, which was eventually shelved due to the intense pushback (see CMB No. 71).
* USA Today 7/21/2013: Party propagandists impose ‘China Dream’ on skeptical public
* Tea Leaf Nation 7/16/2013: China’s Propaganda Department rolls out recommended reading list, parents reject ‘brainwashing’ books
* Radio Free Asia 7/11/2013: Party-backed Hong Kong textbook sparks brainwashing fears
* South China Morning Post 7/10/2013: Comic book for students raises indoctrination fears among parents
* Standard 7/11/2013: Brainwashing rears its head
Yunnan police officer dismissed after threatening journalists
A news crew with the Yunnan-based Kunming Television Station was threatened by a plainclothes police officer at the scene of a traffic accident in Kunming City on July 12. The official Xinhua news agency reported that the three-member team was confronted by the officer, identified as Tan Liyong, as they filmed at the site of the collision, in which Tan’s vehicle was flipped. The officer was allegedly driving while intoxicated, though he initially denied that he had consumed alcohol as he tried to stop the cameraman from recording his license plate. After several failed attempts, he smashed the crew’s equipment and pointed a knife at them, shouting, “I can kick you to death tonight.” After the television station reported the incident, Kunming’s Public Security Bureau announced on July 15 that Tan had been dismissed from duty. Physical and verbal assaults on journalists are not unusual in China, though punishment of the perpetrators is. While some assaults are committed directly by government officials, many cases involve unidentified thugs hired by officials or businessmen seeking revenge for investigative reports that uncover wrongdoing (see CMB No. 88).
* Committee to Protect Journalists 7/16/2013: Police officer accused of threatening Chinese journalist
* Xinhua 7/15/2013 (in Chinese): Yunnan plainclothes police officer threatens reporter
* Yunnan Net 7/15/2013 (in Chinese): Yunnan plainclothes police who threatened journalist with knife dismissed from position and put under investigation according to official reports
Independent film school closed, filmmaker freed on bail
Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) reported on July 14 that the Chinese authorities had recently raided and shut down Li Xianting Film School, a Beijing-based independent filmmaking institution. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, a school employee said students were forcibly taken to a guesthouse before being sent back to their hometowns. The school and the affiliated Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF) have frequently encountered official harassment, as their documentaries sometimes address social topics that are deemed sensitive by the authorities (see CMB No. 37). On the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo, students and alumni protested the school’s shutdown, and teachers and students reportedly resumed their work in an undisclosed location in Hebei Province. As part of the authorities’ broader crackdown on independent filmmakers, police had detained journalist Du Bin in Beijing in May (see CMB No. 88). He had recently released a documentary film about the notorious Masanjia reeducation-through-labor camp as well as a book about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Du, who had previously worked as a freelance photographer for the New York Times, was released on bail on July 8. He told the British Broadcasting Corporation that he was interrogated about both the book and the documentary. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Du’s name was censored on Sina Weibo to silence discussion about his release.
* Radio Netherlands Worldwide 7/14/2013: Independent thinking ‘not encouraged’ in China’s film schools
* Radio Free Asia 7/19/2013: Police raid cutting-edge film school in Beijing
* China Digital Times 8/22/2012: Netizen voices: Power cut at indie film fest
* South China Morning Post 7/9/2013: Independent filmmaker Du Bin released on bail in Beijing
* BBC 7/9/2013: China releases journalist Du Bin from detention
* Committee to Protect Journalists 7/11/2013: Chinese journalist released but restrictions remain
Falun Gong adherents face trial for satellite dishes amid wider crackdown
As many as 13 people in Dalian, Liaoning Province, are facing trial for distributing and installing satellite dishes, according to overseas Falun Gong sources, media reports, and human rights lawyers. The group consists of practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual discipline who were arrested in July 2012 and are being defended by a team of prominent human rights lawyers. The attorneys have sought to argue that accessing information via satellite is a legally protected right. The case initially gained international attention in April when Cheng Hai, one of the lawyers, was beaten by police after being detained in front of a courthouse in Dalian. A trial was reportedly scheduled to be held on June 21 at Dalian Xigang Court, but three of the detainees displayed signs of badly deteriorated health, apparently due to abuse in detention, prompting the court to postpone the trial. It was subsequently set for July 5, but the lawyers were not given the required three days’ notice and refused to attend. In what the lawyers described as a victory, the trial did not go forward in their absence. The case is unfolding amid a broader crackdown on unauthorized satellite receivers, estimated to number 50 to 60 million. Posts on Chinese government websites in Jiangsu and Nanjing and reporting by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post point to a crackdown on satellite receivers that was launched in May 2012 and has continued in 2013. The apparent aim is to limit the sale and installation of small dishes, often referred to as “little ears” or “woks,” that are used to view major international channels like the U.S.-based Cable News Network (CNN) or the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)—typically limited to hotels visited by foreigners—as well as programming by New Tang Dynasty TV, a New York–based station run by Falun Gong practitioners that frequently reports on party infighting and human rights abuses in China. In January 2013, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported on a similar crackdown on satellite receivers in Tibetan regions of Qinghai Province.
* Free iNews 7/3/2013: Dalian 13 tried for setting up satellite dishes
* NTDTV 7/13/2012: Dalian police arrests dozens for installing NTD satellite dishes
* Reuters 4/12/2013: Lawyer for Falun Gong believers says assaulted by Chinese police
* Radio Free Asia 4/12/2013 (in Chinese): Rights defender Cheng Hai detained and beaten by police in Dalian
* NTDTV 7/4/2013 (in Chinese): Defense lawyers reject Dalian court hearing for satellite case
* Epoch Times 6/24/2013: Police obstruct lawyers in case of satellite dish installation
* Satellite Internet Australia 5/28/2012: China’s untapped satellite broadcasting and dish market
* South China Morning Post 7/31/2012: Little ears focus on mixed dish for access to satellite service
* Dongtai Municipal Government 9/13/2012 (in Chinese): Live interview with municipal bureau of culture chief Zhang Yuanping
* Nanjing Qixia Law Enforcement Office 5/23/2013 (in Chinese): Crackdown on satellite dishes launched in Cuilin villa
* Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy 1/29/2013: Crackdown on satellite dishes, broadcast equipment deepens in Tibet
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Online antigraft activists and muckrakers face violence, arrest, censorship
Communist Party leaders have vowed to crack down on graft, encouraging anticorruption efforts that go through official channels and sometimes punishing local bureaucrats in response to online exposés, but grassroots whistle-blowers and muckraking bloggers continue to face harsh reprisals from those they implicate as well as from the authorities. In one recent incident that garnered international attention, Guangdong Province netizen and whistle-blower Li Jianxin was brutally attacked by three men on July 9. The assailants rammed Li’s car from behind, poured acid on his face, and slashed him with knives. His six-year-old son was in the car with him at the time of the assault, which cost Li two fingers and one eye, among other permanent injuries. Using the online alias “Uncle Ou of Huiyang,” Li had reported evidence of corruption by local officials, including multiple members of a powerful family in Huiyang. Another recent case involved Xu Zhiyong, a well-known blogger, lawyer, and activist who founded the New Citizens Movement, which has called for senior officials to disclose their financial assets, among other reforms (see CMB Nos. 62, 86). Xu was arrested on July 16 for allegedly “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” even though he had been under house arrest since April. If the charges are pursued, he could face several years in prison. A protest letter that was released online on July 23 and signed by over 400 prominent Chinese citizens demanded the release of Xu and other detained New Citizens Movement members. Xu’s name and related search terms were reportedly blocked on the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo in the days after his arrest. In a separate case, the various microblogs and websites of veteran corruption investigator Zhu Ruifeng were blocked or shut down on July 17 (see CMB No. 79). A microblogger allegedly writing on his behalf conveyed the message that he was safe, but that all of his social-media accounts had to take a “summer vacation.” Zhu is perhaps best known for unraveling a sex and extortion scheme involving Chongqing officials, but he had most recently been delving into the alleged night-club dalliances and bribe-taking of bureaucrat Fan Yue. Fan lost his position at the State Archives in June after his former mistress went online to expose their affair and related lavish spending (see CMB No. 89).
* Telegraph 7/17/2013: Chinese whistleblower blinded in acid attack
* INFZM.com 7/9/2013 (in Chinese): Men allegedly throw acid in Huizhou’s famous whistleblower’s right eye
* The Hindu 6/16/2013: China’s unlikely whistleblower ally
* Washington Post 7/23/2013: China arrests anti-corruption activists even as it pledges to oust dishonest officials
* China Media Project 7/23/2013: Open letter calls for Xu Zhiyong release
* Global Voices 7/18/2013: China cracks down on corruption whistleblower
* China Digital Times 7/19/2013: Sensitive words: Xu Zhiyong, GlaxoSmithKline & more
Fruit vendor’s fatal beating spurs online outcry, censorship
A watermelon vendor in Linwu County, Hunan Province, was allegedly beaten to death on July 17 by government enforcement officials known as chengguan, sparking outrage among netizens after bystanders’ pictures and videos of the incident went viral on the internet. Deng Zhengjia and his wife were selling watermelons when their stall was approached by a group of chengguan, who demanded that the couple pay a 100 yuan ($16) fine for not obtaining a license to sell fruit there. Two days later, after the couple moved the stall to a different area, they were again confronted by chengguan. The officials kicked and punched Deng, and according to some eyewitnesses, struck his head with a weight from his fruit scale, causing his death. The local government initially claimed that the vendor had died “suddenly” after falling to the ground during the confrontation. A crowd soon formed and blocked police from removing Deng’s body, prompting new violence that yielded additional online outrage after images of bloodied residents were widely circulated. The story became one of the top 10 topics on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform and was a top headline on leading portals like Netease and Tencent. By contrast, according to Danwei, only one Chinese newspaper on the island of Hainan carried the story on its front page. The State Council Information Office reportedly issued a directive on July 18, ordering all websites to remove stories, images, and special reports related to Deng from their homepages. However, online discussions continued. For example, on July 19, Li Chengpeng, a prominent blogger with more than seven million Weibo followers, published an essay arguing that Deng’s death was an example of how the most marginalized in society were left out of the “China Dream”—President Xi Jinping’s political slogan referring to national rejuvenation. Almost immediately, the article was reposted more than 135,000 times by Weibo users. Li was then reportedly banned from accessing Weibo for a month. He said a contact inside Sina had informed him that “a quite senior official from the Propaganda Ministry” had come to the firm’s headquarters in person and told staff to “shut me up.” After an autopsy in the family’s presence found bruises on Deng’s body and intracranial hemorrhaging, the local government offered the family 890,000 yuan ($140,000) in compensation, prompting them to drop the matter. Meanwhile, two officials were removed from their posts, and on July 19 six chengguan were detained for their involvement in the incident. According to Agence France-Presse, Linwu County’s official website was hacked on the same day.
* Los Angeles Times 7/19/2013: Slaying of watermelon seller triggers fresh anger in China
* Global Times 7/22/2013: County denies silencing critics
* China Digital Times 7/19/2013: Ministry of Truth: Merchant killed by Chengguan
* Telegraph 7/19/2013: Chinese blogger ‘gagged’ after attacking government for treatment of poor
* Agence France-Presse 7/19/2013: Six enforcers held over China fruit vendor death: media
* Danwei 7/19/2013: Chengguan kill melon vendor with his own measure weights
* Telegraph 7/19/2013: Li Chengpeng’s essay translated: Watermelon vendor died pursuing the Chinese dream
* South China Morning Post 7/21/2013: Could a Hunan hawker be the one to ignite China’s very own Arab Spring?
Latest official statistics on Chinese internet users are released
On July 17, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) published its periodic report on the country’s internet usage and infrastructure (see CMB No. 80), finding that there were 591 million internet users as of June 2013, for a penetration rate of 44.1 percent. Of the more than 26 million users who were added to the tally in the first half of 2013, about 54.4 percent were based in rural areas. Penetration also increased significantly among older people and individuals with an education level of junior high school or below. According to the report, 78.5 percent of users accessed the internet on mobile telephones. Mobile devices were increasingly used for online shopping, banking, listening to music, watching video content, gaming, and blogging. As of June 2013, Chinese users on average spent 21.7 hours per week on the internet, and at least 11 hours were spent on mobile phones.
* CNNIC 7/17/2013 (in Chinese): The 32nd Report on the Development of the Internet in China
* CNNIC 7/22/2013: CNNIC released the 32nd statistical report on internet development
Ministry adds teeth to real-name registration rule for telecom users
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced on July 16 that for the purpose of data security and the “healthy development” of the telecommunications industry, all landline and mobile-telephone users in the country would be required to provide real-name identification when they open accounts with telecommunications operators. The regulations, which would come into effect on September 1, would apply to both Chinese and foreign citizens in the country. The authorities demanded that companies conduct an internal review of customer data at least once a year. Those found to be collecting inaccurate user information or to be uncooperative with the relevant state agencies would face penalties up to 30,000 yuan ($4,800) per offense and other possible legal liabilities. For several years, users have been required to register with their real names when purchasing telecom services, but implementation has been inconsistent, prompting renewed efforts by the authorities to hold service providers responsible for compliance. The government has already fully implemented real-name registration of landline and mobile users in the Tibet Autonomous Region (see CMB No. 89), and a decision adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in December 2012 required the practice to be adopted nationwide (see CMB No. 78). The new regulations appear designed to enforce that decision.
* MIIT 7/19/2013 (in Chinese): Real name registration regulation for telephone and mobile phone users
* ECNS 7/25/2013: Real-name phone system won't affect communication: official
Sina’s microblog demerit system curbs ‘rumors’
On July 5, the Beijing News published an article that assessed the effectiveness of a points-based censorship system introduced by popular Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo in May 2012 (see CMB No. 59). The mechanism was meant to deter netizens from posting spam, rumors, and messages on politically sensitive topics by punishing each violation with a deduction from the initial 80 credits awarded to each user. Accounts with enough violations would be labeled with a “low credit” logo, and those reaching zero points would ultimately be blocked from using the service. Beijing News reported that more than 200,000 users have suffered deductions, and a total of 15 million complaints were submitted to administrators, 2 million of which were related to user disputes and “harmful information”—a category that encompasses politically sensitive content, as opposed to spam or pornography. Hu Yadong, who leads the committee in charge of the points system, said postings of rumors had been reduced from 4,000 to 500 per day in the past year. The definition of “rumors” remains ambiguous in China, because the authorities frequently use the term to cover any unauthorized information—whether true or not—on incidents such as disease outbreaks or social uprisings. As Sina plans to expand the points-system committee from 5,500 to 100,000 members by the end of December, an increasing number of users are switching to rival social-media services, such as Tencent’s WeChat.
* Global Voices 7/9/2013: Targeting ‘rumors’ on China’s Sina Weibo
* Global Times 6/27/2013: Online rumors risk spoiling Weibo’s true value
* Tech in Asia 7/9/2013: Sina Weibo credit system has docked 200k users, dealt with 15 million complaints
* Beijing News 7/5/2013 (in Chinese): Sina Weibo accounts shut down when score reaches zero; 15 million cases of complaints past year
Annual report cites press freedom decline, increased attacks under Leung
On July 7, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) released its 2013 annual report, entitled Dark Clouds on the Horizon. Its findings pointed to deteriorating press freedom and freedom of expression in the territory since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in July 2012. The report noted several worrying trends, including: the increasingly opaque circulation of information under the Leung administration and holding of fewer press conferences, limiting journalists’ opportunity to question officials; attempts to restrict journalists’ access to corporate information, though these ultimately failed (see CMB No. 79); and an increase in Beijing’s efforts to tame Hong Kong media since the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership change in late 2012. According to the HKJA, violence against journalists had been rare in Hong Kong, but it has increased in the past several years, with at least six cases recorded in 2012. More recently, in late June, a series of attacks targeted personnel related to the Next Media Group, which includes the Apple Daily, a popular tabloid-style newspaper known for its reporting on topics ranging from celebrity gossip to Beijing’s human rights abuses. On June 19, a stolen car was rammed into the entrance of Next Media founder Jimmy Lai’s residence. On June 21, a journalist for the affiliated Sharp Daily was beaten. On June 30, unidentified masked men with knives threatened newspaper distribution workers, then set over 25,000 copies of Apple Daily on fire. According to the Wall Street Journal, two men were arrested and released on bail in that case.
* HKJA 7/7/2013: Dark clouds on the horizon: Hong Kong’s freedom of expression faces new threats
* Committee to Protect Journalists 7/3/2013: Attacks on Hong Kong news outlets must be prosecuted
* Wall Street Journal 7/8/2013: Newspaper attacks spur press freedom fears in Hong Kong
Chinese censors delete microblogs of Japanese newspaper
Japan’s prominent Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported on July 17 that its accounts on popular Chinese microblogging platforms, including Sina, Tencent, Sohu, and NetEase, had become inaccessible on July 16. The paper’s international division chief, Junichi Furuyama, was quoted in a July 18 article as saying that Asahi Shimbun had not received any explanation from the four companies, though some netizens speculated that the outage was partly due to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to the disputed Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands in the East China Sea. Since their launch in 2011, the Japanese newspaper’s accounts on Sina and Tencent had drawn over 1.3 million followers, one of the largest audiences attracted by a foreign media organization. The paper gained popularity by using puns and humorous codes when posting on sensitive topics. Thousands of Weibo users wrote, “Give me back Asahi-kun!” with icons of candles to mourn its disappearance. One blogger expressed frustration that Asahi was sharing the same fate as Bloomberg and the New York Times, whose websites have been blocked in China since they reported on the leadership’s family wealth in June and October 2012, respectively (see CMB Nos. 63, 73). “This is closing the eyes of the Chinese. You can’t keep shutting down our communication,” the netizen wrote.
* Asahi Shimbun 7/18/2013: All access lost to Asahi’s Chinese microblogging accounts
* Tea Leaf Nation 7/17/2013: After New York Times, another foreign media outlet bites the dust in China
* South China Morning Post 7/19/2013: Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun censored in China
* International Business Times 7/19/2013: Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun falls victim to China’s state censors
* Japan Daily Press 7/19/2013: Chinese social network accounts closed for Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper
* Japan Today 7/19/2013: Asahi says its social media accounts blocked in China
* Agence France Press 7/18/2013: Japan paper’s social media accounts ‘blocked in China’
Freedom House report finds internet controls advancing under new leadership
On July 24, Freedom House released a special report titled Throttling Dissent: China’s New Leaders Refine Internet Control. The report, authored by research analyst Madeline Earp, found that the country’s internet controls, already among the world’s most extensive, have grown more sophisticated and pervasive under the new Communist Party leadership. New regulations make it harder for activists to conceal their identity online, some circumvention tools have been significantly disrupted, and private companies have stepped up their capacity to delete banned content, sometime within minutes. The 46-page report is based on Freedom House’s unique Freedom on the Net methodology. It includes a summary of key developments and statistics, followed by a detailed analysis of the obstacles to access, the limits on content, and the rights violations faced by Chinese users.
* Freedom House 7/24/2013: China’s new leaders advance internet control (press release)
* Freedom House 7/24/2013: Throttling dissent: China’s new leaders refine internet control
Scholar Perry Link reports on review of online censorship directives
On July 10, the New York Review of Books published a commentary by China scholar Perry Link of the University of California at Irvine. In the piece, Link relays select insights that emerged during a one-day workshop last month to review a trove of 2,600 directives from censorship authorities to staff at internet firms in China. The directives were collected by Xiao Qiang and the staff of China Digital Times, based at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. In addition to an overall analysis of what he terms “a gargantuan internet censorship system,” Link cites specific findings, including the fact that censors often target content that could damage commercial as well as political interests, and that some directives seek to block reporting on events—like a sensitive trial—that have yet to happen.
* New York Review of Books 7/10/2013: Censoring the news before it happens