A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
Foreign press in China faces growing restrictions
The Chinese authorities have increased controls on foreign reporters. Several journalists have been threatened with expulsion if they did not heed new restrictions on their ability to interview and photograph Chinese citizens. On March 2, the Beijing government website announced a ban on reporting without permission in Wangfujing, a shopping district where protesters have been encouraged to meet in online appeals. In a possible sign of the increased pressure and sensitivity surrounding recent assaults on and close surveillance of journalists, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China announced on February 21 that in order to continue operating in China, it would not be publishing reports of harassment on its website, though it would still collect complaints from members. On March 7, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi dismissed clear evidence of physical attacks, telling a news conference that "there is no such issue as Chinese police officers beating foreign journalists."
Cash handed to reporters covering delegate sessions
On March 5, as the annual National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) kicked off in Beijing, CPPCC delegate Liu Yonghao, president of the agribusiness company New Hope Group and one of the richest men in China, reportedly gave red envelopes full of cash to the press amid an online uproar over the prevalence of billionaires among the delegates to the "two meetings." On March 2, Zhao Jianfei, a reporter with Beijing-based Caixin Media, wrote on his microblog that "all reporters had earned some extra cash" at a press conference organized by New Hope Group. The company's public relations director denied that the money was a bribe for favorable coverage of Liu and the conference, adding that the envelopes were only handed out to four reporters as a transportation reimbursement. "Red envelopes" and other forms of bribery are a common phenomenon among journalists in China, stemming from the hybrid model of commercialized but state-controlled media and the extremely low salaries paid to most reporters. In recent years, however, as some Chinese reporters have become more aware of international standards of journalistic ethics, they have opted not to write slanted articles, even when money is collected.
Propaganda to fill TV ad slots in Chongqing
Beginning this month, state-run Chongqing Cable Television plans to replace all commercials with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda clips to promote the city's image and "the public good," according to Chongqing Evening News. The change is part of the "Red Culture Campaign" ordered by municipality party secretary Bo Xilai. In February, Bo had ordered television networks in Chongqing to broadcast pro-CCP programs instead of popular drama series between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., making it the only mainland city where local networks have no entertainment programming during prime time. Bo is widely perceived as seeking a spot on the powerful CCP Politburo Standing Committee at the upcoming 2012 Party Congress.
Cross-regional reporting continues despite pressures
As the Chinese newspaper market has commercialized in the past two decades, local newspapers seeking to attract readers and advertising have increasingly practiced cross-regional reporting, or yidi jiandu. By covering issues outside of their home provinces, they avoid angering their local government owners. Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly and others have used this strategy to conduct investigative reporting, particularly on corruption. Liu Wanyong, editor of Beijing-based China Youth Daily, exposed a senior official's corruption scandal in Liaoning province in 2005. She admitted that reporters in Liaoning were unable to reveal the case, despite having been offered information by local whistleblowers. However, in recent years both government officials and powerful economic actors have sought to stifle the yidi jiandu phenomenon. In 2008, the authorities cited a rarely enforced 2004 restriction on cross-regional reporting to suspend the China Business Post for three months after it published a piece detailing misdeeds at the Hunan branch of the Agricultural Bank of China. One of the Communist Party censorship directives for 2011 that were leaked online in January reiterated a ban on cross-regional coverage of natural disasters and major accidents
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Beijing plans mass location tracking, boosts security budget
On March 2, the Beijing Morning Post reported that an "information platform of real-time citizen movement" would be introduced in Beijing in the first half of 2011, tracking every mobile-telephone user via global-positioning technology. Officials claimed that the project would help with traffic management. But Wang Songlian of Chinese Human Rights Defenders said the plan would allow authorities to quickly stifle nascent protests and punish individuals, forming part of a broader effort to quash dissent and control social discontent using hi-tech equipment. On March 5, the Chinese government announced at the opening of National People's Congress that the state budget for law and order will increase by 14 percent this year, putting it at 624 billion yuan ($95 billion), more than the military budget. The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Beijing Daily hinted that part of the budget would be spent on a crackdown aimed at online calls for a democratic "Jasmine Revolution" in China.
Surge in progovernment 'tweets' may skew Google results
Online activists in China have reported a surge of progovernment messages on the officially blocked Twitter microblogging service, mostly related to online calls for a democratic "Jasmine Revolution." In some cases, the commentators have imitated well-known democracy advocates, such as exiled 1989 student leader Wang Dan. Fujian-based blogger Guo Baofeng said these "professional tweets" were being sent around the clock and were increasingly visible in Google searches. This suggests that the effort is a deliberate attempt to dominate search results for the term "Jasmine Revolution." In response to the surge, prominent artist and blogger Ai Weiwei initiated a campaign to identify government-hired commentators, often termed the "50 Cent Party" for their alleged per-comment wages. Ironically, on March 2, a spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) told reporters that China needs to be cautious about the emergence of "internet mercenaries," or wanglu shuijun, who post comments online to "manipulate public opinion."
Chinese social-networking sites belie copycat image
Chinese technology executives object to statements such as "Sina Weibo is China's Twitter" or "Renren is the mainland's Facebook." They claim that China's social-networking sites are more innovative than their Western counterparts rather than simple copycat versions. Sina hosts both images and voice messages, and its comments are threaded to enable users to follow a particular conversation-features that are not available on Twitter. Sina users can also vote on polls and see lists of suggested friends based on location. Renren, a platform widely used by Chinese college students, shows users who has viewed their profiles, a function that is not available on Facebook. According to Thomas Crampton, a veteran correspondent in China, while Facebook and Twitter are blocked, various Chinese social-networking sites have attracted segmented audiences. Douban, for example, attracts arts students who connect and organize offline activities according to their interests. Kaixin001, designed for young professionals, is dominated by urban white-collar workers. Qzone, the country's first and largest social-networking site, has a sizable portion of migrant workers among its users, many of whom share personal diaries on their accounts.
Leaked censorship directives target Hu and Wen coverage
A series of alleged censorship directives issued by China's State Council Information Office (SCIO) and the Chinese Community Party Propaganda Department in February have been leaked online. The SCIO reportedly reiterated that using the internet and other media tools for organizing activities that "distort facts and spread rumors" is illegal. It also asked all websites to disseminate important news on the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, so as to create "a positive online atmosphere" for the two meetings. Several directives focused on restricting material related to recent actions or speeches by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. On February 26, for example, Chinese web portals were reportedly ordered to repost full rather than truncated transcripts of a public online chat session with Wen as issued by the state news agency Xinhua. Social-networking sites were told to increase monitoring of commentary that criticized Wen's chat.
TIBET & XINJIANG
Tibetan writer escapes to India, associates detained
Gendun Tsering, author of the banned book Migchu and editor of Sonmig, a compilation of pro-Tibet articles, reportedly arrived in India in February after a year in hiding. Tsering Dhondup, who had helped publish the two books, had been taken away by Chinese police in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in 2010. The owner and two employees of Pandita Printing Press, which allegedly printed copies of the books, were also arrested in February and March of that year. The owner was released shortly thereafter, but the other two individuals, Pema Tso and Yangchen Kyi, are still held at detention centers in Barkham and Nagchu Counties.
Xinjiang leader launches microblog
On March 2, Xinjiang Communist Party secretary Zhang Chunxian became the first Chinese provincial leader to open a microblog. His account on Tencent attracted nearly 12,000 followers in one day. Adalet Ahmetian, a professor at Xinjiang Medical University in Urumqi, said Zhang's microblog would help increase communications between the leadership and citizens. According to the South China Morning Post, about 330 deputies to the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference have microblog accounts on which they discuss their proposals with netizens.
Uighur webmaster imprisoned after secret trial
In July 2010, Tursunjan Hezim, a Uighur website manager and former history teacher, was reportedly sentenced to seven years in prison after a secret trial at the Aksu district court. His whereabouts remain unknown, and his prison sentence was disclosed only recently. Hezim was detained after ethnic violence in Urumqi in July 2009, and his website, Orkhun, which had featured scholarly articles on Uighur history, was forcibly shut down. Catherine Baber, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director, said the increasing number of secret trials targeting Uighur intellectuals and writers is creating an "atmosphere of terror" in Xinjiang.
China-based cyberattacks hit France, Morgan Stanley, WordPress
Hackers operating from China have been implicated in a growing number of cyberattacks. On March 7, French budget minister Francois Baroin said the Finance Ministry had been targeted by China-based hackers who aimed to steal information related to the Group of 20 Summit held in Paris in February. According to Paris Match magazine, more than 150 computers at the ministry were attacked in 2010, and some of the captured information was redirected to Chinese websites. On March 3, WordPress, a U.S.-based blog-publishing platform, said it was hit for two days by "extremely large" distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks originating in China. Company founder Matt Mullenweg said one of the targeted accounts is blocked on the Chinese search engine Baidu, which made the attacks appear "politically motivated." On March 1, Bloomberg reported that the New York–based bank Morgan Stanley was hit by the same China-based cyberespionage operation that attacked Google in 2010, widely known as Operation Aurora, making it the first financial institution to be named among a series of high-profile victims. According to one information-technology expert, the number of companies estimated to have been hit by those attacks has risen from an initial 20 or 30 to over 200.
Caribbean journalists wooed with paid trips to China
As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reaches out to shape global opinion about China, journalists from Caribbean countries have been taken on pampered tours of China since 2007. Jamaica Observer chief editor Vernon Davidson, who went on one of the trips in October 2010, told the Epoch Times that the Chinese project was called the Professional Program for Journalists from Caribbean Countries. During the trip, journalists were given lectures and greeted by high officials, including China's vice minister of foreign affairs. A former Grenadan journalist revealed that she was required to write a report to the local Chinese embassy as part of the agreement. Reporters Without Borders Asia director Vincent Brossel said it is unclear whether the trips are effective. However, several participants who were interviewed appeared to be convinced that China has a multiparty system and that the CCP's authoritarian model is a "Chinese" cultural phenomenon. Indeed, among the key points conveyed during the program was an effort to conflate the Communist Party with China. One diplomat commented that it is easier for the Chinese authorities to influence coverage in smaller countries, as they can transport the whole press corps for a state-run visit.