China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 100
In this issue: Party criminal investigations hailed by official outlets, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Chinese bloggers, and Microsoft’s Bing accused of internationalizing Chinese censorship.
CHINA MEDIA BULLETIN
Freedom House's biweekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
Issue No. 100: February 25, 2014
* Official outlets hail investigations as they zero in on former security chief
* Chinese bloggers ask Kerry for help amid growing internet controls
* Netizens punished for political views, flu rumor
* Microsoft’s Bing accused of internationalizing Chinese censorship
* China to help Iran build comprehensive internet controls
* CCTV heralds sex trade crackdown, netizens side with workers
* State media campaign targets Aston Martin
* ‘House of Cards’ an online hit in China, despite political sensitivity
* Tibetan detained over Dalai Lama photos, torture reported
* HK protesters demand press freedom after radio host fired, publisher threatened
* CPJ explores Beijing’s media influence in Hong Kong and Taiwan
* Harvard journal assesses state of journalism in China
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BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
CCTV heralds sex trade crackdown, netizens side with workers
In what was seen as the opening salvo in a broad antiprostitution campaign by central authorities, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) aired a February 9 exposé on the illegal sex trade in the city of Dongguan, Guangdong Province, triggering a crackdown on local sex workers. Several city officials apologized or were fired for neglecting the problem, and raids targeting the sex trade were soon carried out in other provinces. The CCTV program specifically noted that a Dongguan hotel accused of offering sex services was owned by a National People’s Congress member, indicating the degree of local official involvement in the illegal but profitable business, as well as the fact that the central leadership had most likely signed off on the report. By February 17, multiple state-run news outlets were carrying stories on the nationwide campaign. A China Daily article quoted a Public Security Ministry statement vowing to dismantle and punish prostitution rings and their “protective umbrellas” of complicit officials. However, many netizens expressed sympathy for the sex workers, criticized CCTV for unfairly denigrating them, and called for legalization to improve their working conditions. On February 10, “Dongguan hang in there” was reportedly the top trending topic on the microblog service Sina Weibo. Pointing to the city’s highly professional and well-organized sex trade, one netizen reportedly remarked, “These sex workers know much better how to serve the people, and with much higher work ethics than our officials.” Another noted that customers can choose from a selection of sex workers, but citizens cannot choose their leaders. A number of users rebuked journalists at the obedient state broadcaster for trying to take the moral high ground in the exposé, with one writing, “Selling your body is better than selling your soul.
* South China Morning Post 2/14/2014: Dongguan vice crackdown just the start
* Guardian 2/14/2014: Chinese government sacks Dongguan police chief over prostitution scandal
* BBC 2/17/2014: China media: Anti-vice crackdown
* Jinhua Daily 2/17/2014: 东莞四镇党委书记公开道歉各有侧重 [Dongguan four city officials make public apology]
* Offbeat China 2/11/2014: Why Chinese netizens are rooting for China’s sin city
* China Smack 2/12/2014: Dongguan anti-prostitution campaign, results and reactions
Official outlets hail investigations as they zero in on former security chief
Chinese authorities have been pressing ahead with multiple party and criminal investigations into individuals surrounding former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, and recent state media coverage of the probes suggests that they will eventually lead to some form of action against Zhou himself. Zhou, who retired from his post on the Communist Party’s top-tier Politburo Standing Committee in late 2012, had reportedly antagonized other party magnates by accumulating enormous personal power as head of China’s internal security agencies, and by attempting to protect former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, who was disgraced and formally purged in early 2012 (see CMB No. 95). On February 21, the party mouthpiece People’s Daily ran a full page of articles on the indictment of Sichuan Province mining tycoon Liu Han, who had allegedly operated a sprawling crime syndicate. The article accused local officials of shielding Liu’s operation, and predicted that this “‘protective umbrella’ will be revealed as investigations into Liu’s case continue.” The People’s Daily did not mention Zhou by name, but he served as party secretary of Sichuan from 1999 to 2002, and other news outlets drew connections between him, Liu, and various Zhou associates under investigation. Also on February 21, Beijing municipal authorities removed the city’s State Security Bureau director, Liang Ke, who had reportedly been detained by party disciplinary agents in January. Liang was an ally of vice minister of public security Li Dongsheng, a close aide to Zhou who was formally dismissed on February 24 after being suspended for party disciplinary violations in December. Earlier in February, the authorities had announced a graft inquiry aimed at Hainan Province official Ji Wenlin, Zhou’s longtime secretary. Detailing Ji’s close connection with another Sichuan official under investigation, the China Business Journal said, “As the antigraft net continues to widen, members of the ‘secretary gang’ closely tied to each other have finally been caught one by one.” The article was later republished on the People’s Daily website. An official probe of Zhou has yet to be announced, but unconfirmed reports in recent months have indicated that he is under de facto house arrest. He was last seen in public at an event in October 2013.
* South China Morning Post 2/22/2014: Media’s heavy hints signal endgame in the pursuit of Zhou Yongkang
* People's Daily 2/21/2014: 人民日报快评：反腐打黑除恶务尽 [People's Daily editorial: Anti-corruption campaign targets the dark and the evil]
* South China Morning Post 2/21/2014: Graft connections between Zhou Yongkang secretaries picked out by media sources
* New York Times 2/21/2014: Beijing official detained in investigation of former security chief
* South China Morning Post 2/24/2014: China sacks vice police chief with connections to Zhou Yongkang
* BBC 2/19/2014: Top China official linked to Zhou Yongkang facing probe
* Epoch Times 2/24/2014: Noose appears to tighten around former Chinese security commissar
State media campaign targets Aston Martin
Chinese state media have criticized the British luxury car manufacturer Aston Martin after the company found that a Chinese parts supplier, Shenzhen Kexiang Mould Tool Company, was using counterfeit plastic material to produce an element of the accelerator pedals for its cars. No accidents related to the potentially flawed part had been reported, but Aston Martin initiated a sweeping recall of over 17,000 vehicles. A spokeswoman for the carmaker said on February 5 that it would switch to a British-based supplier as soon as possible. In a February 13 commentary, the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily said the company was “unprofessional” for blaming its problems on Chinese manufacturing, and other state media followed suit, accusing Aston Martin of attempting to divert attention from its poor supply-chain management. Shenzhen Kexiang was reportedly separated from the British firm by at least two intermediary contractors, based in Hong Kong and Britain. A February 14 article by the official Xinhua news agency argued that “higher levels of technology and quality are the ultimate solution for the unjust stereotype of ‘Made in China’ as cheap and copycat.” Over the past year, state media have collectively pounced on a series of foreign companies whose brands are popular in China, including Apple, Starbucks, Samsung, and Volkswagen (see CMB No. 95).
* Reuters 2/5/2014: Aston Martin recalls 17,590 cars due to counterfeit material
* People’s Daily 2/13/2014: 阿斯顿•马丁不能推卸责任 [Aston Martin cannot shirk responsibility]
* Reuters 2/14/2014: China state media slams Aston Martin over handling of sports car recall
* Wall Street Journal 2/14/2014: China’s state media dings Aston Martin
* Independent 2/14/2014: China state media slams Aston Martin over recall
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Chinese bloggers ask Kerry for help amid growing internet controls
On February 15, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry met with four prominent Chinese journalists and bloggers during a brief trip to China that was otherwise dominated by government discussions on topics like North Korea’s nuclear program and rising tensions with Japan. The participants—investigative journalist Wang Keqin (see CMB No. 82), Tencent finance reporter Zhang Jialong, blogging site founder Ma Xiaolin, and web portal director Wang Chong—reportedly urged the United States to do more to aid the cause of internet freedom in China, warning that the situation was growing worse. They asked Kerry to collaborate with freedom-seeking Chinese to “tear down this great firewall,” to look into reports that U.S. companies had helped Beijing build the censorship apparatus, and to show more support for China’s prisoners of conscience. However, according to news reports, Kerry often appeared to rebuff their concerns. He said the United States regularly raised the issue of internet freedom and other human rights problems with Chinese officials, but also asserted that democracy in China was already making “slow progress,” and cautioned that “no one country can come crashing in to say: ‘Do this our way. It is better.’” That remark, echoing Chinese government rhetoric, seemed to disregard the many Chinese citizens—represented by the bloggers—who share democratic values and do not view them as exclusively American. Zhang asked whether Kerry would visit Liu Xia, the ailing wife of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo who has been under extralegal house arrest for over three years (see CMB No. 97). The chief U.S. diplomat responded by saying his current trip was a short one. On February 17, the Communist Party–owned Global Times published a summary of the meeting that effectively praised Kerry’s performance as well as a commentary that said dissidents were naïve to rely on the U.S. government for support. On February 20, the U.S.-based online magazine Tea Leaf Nation published an additional commentary by Zhang in which he expressed satisfaction with the meeting and Kerry’s willingness to listen, but also relayed requests that he did not have time to communicate in person, including that U.S. authorities deny visas to Chinese individuals involved in building and maintaining the so-called Great Firewall.
* Washington Post 2/15/2014: Chinese bloggers ask Kerry to put pressure on Beijing over Internet, press freedoms
* New York Times 2/15/2014: Chinese ask Kerry to help tear down a firewall
* Global Times 2/17/2014: Kerry talks internet freedom with Chinese bloggers
* Global Times 2/17/2014: Counting on US for freedom is naïve
* South China Morning Post 2/17/2014: Chinese bloggers ‘naïve’ for meeting John Kerry over internet censorship, says Beijing paper
* Tea Leaf Nation 2/20/2014: Everything I wish I’d told John Kerry
Netizens punished for political views, flu rumor
A number of internet users have been punished for their online activities in recent weeks. On January 23, democracy activist Liu Benqi was sentenced to three years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” having been arrested in Qinghai Province in July 2012 after advocating nonviolent civil disobedience and initiating an online petition to denounce authoritarianism and promote freedom of speech and assembly. Liu, a former soldier, had been held in detention since his arrest, and his trial was held six months before the sentence was announced. His wife, Liu Ying, served one year in a labor camp for seeking help on her husband’s case. Separately, on February 3, activist Wang Zhenhua was criminally detained in Liaoning Province on suspicion of “creating a disturbance,” mostly likely in connection with microblog posts in which he “declared war” against China’s criminal detention system, according to lawyer Wang Quanzhang. Xu Meiying and Xin Ying, fellow activists and reportedly supporters of Wang’s online efforts, were similarly detained. The three had been repeatedly harassed or temporarily detained by police over the past year. In another case, the official Xinhua news agency reported on February 12 that Hubei Province authorities had detained a man for spreading “panic” by claiming on the mobile messaging platform WeChat that the H7N9 strain of avian influenza had arrived in Hubei. According to Xinhua, the WeChat post stated that a pregnant doctor at a local hospital had died of the virus, and that multiple other cases had been detected. Provincial health officials dismissed the post as a false rumor, having not reported any human cases of H7N9 in Hubei. Nationwide, the virus has killed at least 31 people in 2014, according to official figures.
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 2/13/2014: Activist given 3 years for inciting subversion, Tibetans tortured to death
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 7/20/2012: China human rights briefing July 13–19, 2012
* Radio Free Asia 2/10/2014: 异议人士刘本琦被秘密判刑三年 放弃上诉但拒认罪 [Dissident Liu Benqi secretly sentenced to three years in prison; gives up his right to appeal but refuses to plead guilty]
* Radio Free Asia 7/19/2012: 青海异议人士刘本琦被刑事拘留 [Qinghai dissident Liu Benqi criminally detained]
* Reuters 2/12/2014: China detains man for spreading ‘panic’ with bird flu rumors
‘House of Cards’ an online hit in China, despite political sensitivity
In the new season of House of Cards, a drama series available online through the U.S.-based Netflix video-streaming service, U.S.-China relations are central to the storyline, drawing attention and commentary from many Chinese viewers. The show’s main character, Vice President Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, makes backchannel deals with a Chinese billionaire who is trying to influence the White House, while topics ranging from cybertheft to currency manipulation are addressed. Alongside Netflix, the second season was released simultaneously via the Chinese web portal Sohu.com. According to theWall Street Journal, the first episode garnered over 3.5 million views in China within three days and was the fifth most popular drama overall, behind four Chinese shows. The program’s writers apparently consulted with China experts in the United States and drew on themes from recent headlines to add to the plot’s authenticity, possibly contributing to its popularity in China. Analysts offered a number of theories to explain how a show that touches on Chinese as well as American corruption has avoided the wrath of Chinese censors. First, top Communist Party leaders including Wang Qishan, head of the party’s anticorruption body and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, are rumored to enjoy watching the show. According to Sohu, many of last season’s avid viewers were government-sector employees and Beijing residents. Second, the unflattering and cynical depiction of America’s democratic political system may make China’s authoritarian regime seem less unattractive by comparison. As for Chinese viewers’ interest in the show, one Chinese fan featured on a Sohu panel explained that they are curious about American political machinations because any similar program about their own government could never get past the censors. Imagining a Chinese version, she said, “Oh my God, the political characters would be even more ruthless and masterful at manipulation.”
* Wall Street Journal 2/17/2014: ‘House of Cards’ does its homework on China
* Washington Post 2/18/2014: ‘House of Cards’ finds avid audience in China
* South China Morning Post 2/20/2014: Why isn’t House of Cards censored in China? Top graft buster Wang Qishan may hold the answer
Tibetan detained over Dalai Lama photos, torture reported
U.S. government–funded Radio Free Asia reported on January 29 that a young Tibetan day laborer had been detained on January 14 for keeping images and audio recordings of the Dalai Lama on his mobile telephone. Such content is strictly banned, and police regularly check phones carried by Tibetans for illicit material (see CMB Nos. 76, 91). The man, identified as Norgyay, was detained in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and was allegedly tortured in custody.
* Radio Free Asia 1/29/2014: Tibetan laborer held, tortured over Dalai Lama photos, audio
Protesters demand press freedom after radio host fired, publisher threatened
More than 6,000 people, including reporters, college students, and retirees, gathered in downtown Hong Kong on February 23 to protest against Beijing’s growing negative influence on the territory’s media freedom. The rally’s organizer, South China Morning Post reporter Shirley Yam, told the U.S.-based Cable News Network (CNN) that the current situation was the worst she had seen in her 30-year career. Citing various examples, other reporters said it was becoming more common to receive telephone calls from Beijing’s Liaison Office in which officials press them to remove or alter coverage of certain topics. In another sign of state pressure, local broadcaster Commercial Radio on February 12 abruptly dismissed host Li Wei-ling, a well-known critic of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. In a press conference held on February 13, Li said she was fired because her work was causing friction between the authorities and the station’s leadership, including in their bid to renew a broadcasting license that was set to expire in 2016. Commercial Radio’s managers denied Li’s allegations but failed to explain the reasons for her firing. Book publishing has also been affected by Beijing’s political sensitivities. The New York Times reported on February 19 that Hong Kong publisher Wu Yisan had abandoned plans to release Chinese Godfather Xi Jinping, a book on China’s president written by U.S.-based dissident author Yu Jie, after he received a threatening phone call. According to Yu, the unidentified speaker told Wu that the book “absolutely cannot be published,” and that if he persisted, his personal safety and that of his family could not be guaranteed. Wu had initially agreed to handle the book after a first publisher, Yao Wentian of Morning Bell Press, was arrested just over the border on the mainland in October 2013. He remains in detention (see CMB No. 99).
* South China Morning Post 2/14/2014: Commercial Radio refutes sacked host Li Wei-ling’s political pressure claim
* HKJA 2/13/2014: HKJA’s statement: We will never bow to suppression of press freedom
* Wall Street Journal 2/23/2014: Thousands rally for press freedoms in Hong Kong
* CNN 2/24/2014: Hong Kong journalists: Press freedom is at an all-time low
* Apple Daily 2/25/2014: 港出版社收北京恐嚇 余杰新書叫停 [Hong Kong publisher threatened by Beijing; Yu Jie book release called off]
* New York Times 2/19/2014: A chilling phone call adds to hurdles of publishing Xi Jinping book
Microsoft’s Bing accused of internationalizing Chinese censorship
On February 11, the freedom of expression group GreatFire.org accused U.S.-based Microsoft’s Bing search engine of filtering out English- and Chinese-language search results that Chinese authorities would find objectionable, even for users outside of China. Microsoft released a statement the next day, denying the allegation of intentional censorship and arguing that the main problem was erroneous “removal notification” messages in cases where results were not in fact altered. After conducting her own research, Rebecca Mackinnon, a China and internet freedom expert based in Washington, wrote in Britain’sGuardian that she attributed Bing’s apparently skewed results to “second hand censorship.” She said Microsoft was “blindly applying apolitical mathematical algorithms to politically manipulated and censored web content.” Search algorithms generally rely heavily on the amount of traffic to a website. Given the vast population of users in China, if the government blocks a certain website, the traffic to that site will be significantly lower than to those that share the same search terms but are allowed by the government. Consequently, searches in the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China for sensitive terms like “Dalai Lama” will yield results that reflect Beijing’s censorship. However, Mackinnon noted that U.S.-based search giant Google had found a solution to this problem years ago, and that Microsoft’s weaknesses on the issue were first pointed out in 2009. Both she and GreatFire.org noted that Microsoft is a member of the Global Network Initiative, a coalition committed to protecting freedom of expression and privacy on the internet, and that it had recently taken steps to end censorship of its Skype voice and messaging service in China (see CMB No. 97). Mackinnon echoed GreatFire.org’s call for Microsoft to begin producing a “transparency report” that details the government censorship requests it receives and implements around the world, a practice Google has already adopted.
* Great Fire 2/11/2014: Bing practicing Chinese censorship globally
* Reuters 2/12/2014: Microsoft denies global censorship of China-related searches
* Guardian 2/14/2014: Where is Microsoft Bing’s transparency report?
* Bing blogs 2/12/2014: Setting the record straight
China to help Iran build comprehensive internet controls
In a January statement posted on its official website, Iran’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced that the Chinese government would collaborate with Tehran to build the country’s National Information Network, effectively a closed intranet also known as the “clean internet.” The agreement, few concrete details of which were made public, was a result of negotiations between Nasrollah Jahangard, who heads the Iranian Information Technology Organization, and officials from China’s State Internet Information Office. Praising Beijing’s long experience in “application development services for information technology,” Jahangard said in the statement that he hoped Chinese internet companies would strengthen their presence in Iran and help enforce its information network controls. According to the U.S.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, newly elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani had spoken in December 2013 on the importance of the long-planned but still incomplete National Information Network, which would enable comprehensive control and monitoring of Iranians’ online activities. China and Iran have a history of cooperation on information technology, and Chinese firms have been accused of selling surveillance equipment to Iran despite U.S. and European sanctions (see CMB No. 77). China and Iran, both designated Not Free, were among the three worst performers out of 60 countries assessed in Freedom House’s 2013 Freedom on the Net report.
* International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran 1/21/2014: China to help Iran implement its closed national internet
* Tech President 1/22/2014: When it comes to internet censorship, China & Iran are all in this together
* US News 1/30/2014: China’s newest export: internet censorship
* Freedom House 10/3/2013: Freedom on the Net 2013
CPJ explores Beijing’s media influence in Hong Kong and Taiwan
As part of its annual report Attacks on the Press, the New York–based Committee to Protect Journalists offered an analysis piece on Beijing’s growing influence over media in Hong Kong and Taiwan, among other threats to press freedom in recent years. The key problems cited are self-censorship, direct pressure by Beijing on local media to alter coverage, indirect rewarding of friendly outlets with advertising, and physical attacks on critical outlets. While drawing on slightly different sources, the analysis echoes the findings of an October 2013 report authored by Freedom House analyst Sarah Cook for the Center for International Media Assistance.
* CPJ 2/12/2014: Journalists in Hong Kong and Taiwan battle Beijing’s influence
* CIMA 10/22/2013: The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship
Harvard journal assesses state of journalism in China
The latest issue of Nieman Reports, an online journal published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, focuses on the state of journalism in China, with 12 articles authored by prominent journalists and media observers, both foreign and Chinese. The topics addressed include updates on the authorities’ latest strategies to control social media, the economic challenges facing media in China, Chinese journalists’ methods for evading censors, and foreign correspondents’ changing approaches to covering the country. The publication is available for download in e-book format in both English and Chinese.
* Nieman Reports 2/2014: The State of Journalism in China