China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 15
A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
Issue No. 15: March 24, 2011
* Censorship directives target Japan coverage, liberal outlets
* Beijing officials close AIDS group's website
* China closed 130,000 'illegal' cybercafes in six years
* Hollywood alters film to avoid offending Chinese government
* Indonesia to try radio manager who aired critical Chinese content
State TV focuses on congress session despite Yunnan quake
In its half-hour Nightly News program on March 10, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reportedly aired news about that day's earthquake in Yunnan province only after 27 minutes of coverage on the National People's Congress session in Beijing and Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi's victories against rebels. According to official statistics, the 5.8 magnitude temblor caused at least 26 deaths. Yang Hengjun, a prominent Chinese blogger and a former staffer at the Chinese foreign ministry, said CCTV's spin was "truly shocking," but that many people, including himself, would continue watching the channel because one cannot ignore its impact on Chinese society. On March 12, the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department reportedly instructed all media outlets to prevent the earthquake in Yunnan from "diluting the message" of the parliamentary meetings in Beijing.
* China Media Project 3/18/2011: Thoughts on CCTV's Nightly News <http://cmp.hku.hk/2011/03/18/11030/#comment-4833>
Censorship directives target Japan coverage, liberal outlets
A series of recent media directives allegedly issued by China's State Council Information Office (SCIO) and the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department have been leaked online. On March 13, the SCIO reportedly instructed news outlets to "balance" coverage of the catastrophic March 11 earthquake in Japan with the National People's Congress session in Beijing. In their Japan coverage, reporters were told to highlight the work of Chinese rescue teams instead of making comments on the Japanese government. They were also advised not to compare the situation there with China's Yunnan province, which was hit by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake on March 10. China's media regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), reportedly banned rebroadcasts of foreign television stations' Japan coverage. According to the orders, any such programs are to be immediately cut off. Among other directives issued in mid-March were two that appeared aimed at limiting the influence of liberal bloggers and media outlets. One order from Shanghai stated that comments by Han Han, one of China's most prominent bloggers, on topics other than car racing must not be reported. Another prohibited republication of a story by Southern Metropolis News, known for its investigative reporting, on mismanagement in the automobile industry.
* China Digital Times 3/19/2011: Latest directives from the Ministry of Truth <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/03/latest-directives-from-the-ministry-of-truth-march-10-18-2011>
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Beijing officials close AIDS group's website
The Beijing municipal news department shut down the website of the Aizhixing Research Foundation, a Beijing-based AIDS advocacy group, on March 15. Aizhixing founder Wan Yanhai, who fled to the United States last year, said the closure was triggered by an open letter posted on the website about a scandal involving HIV transmission via officially sponsored blood-selling schemes in poor, rural areas of Henan province. The group had refused officials' requests to remove the letter, as they lacked legal documentation. The letter was published in December 2010 by a retired senior health official, Chen Bingzhong. Citing documents he had accumulated about the case, Chen accused Chinese Communist Party propaganda chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun and China's vice premier, Li Keqiang, of covering up the scandal over the last two decades. The spate of HIV exposures reportedly left more than 100,000 people infected with the virus, and at least 10,000 have died. Both Li Changchun and Li Keqiang served as Henan provincial party chiefs during the period in question.
* Radio Free Asia 3/16/11: China closes AIDS website <http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/website-03162011155736.html>
* Committee to Protect Journalists 3/17/2011: Beijing censors AIDS site after claim of cover-up <http://www.cpj.org/2011/03/beijing-censors-aids-site-after-claim-of-cover-up.php>
* Associated Press 12/1/2010: Chinese government urged to admit responsibility for HIV cases <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/01/china-blood-selling-scandal-hiv>
* Aizhixing 3/16/2011 (in Chinese): Letter from a former health ministry official to President Hu Jintao about HIV transmission in Henan province <https://profiles.google.com/aizhixing2010/posts/DZKQ751pwPp#aizhixing2010/posts/DZKQ751pwPp>
Forty Chinese writers call Baidu a thief
On March 15, an open letter signed by more than 40 Chinese authors was posted on the website of Beijing-based China Written Works Copyright Society, accusing the Chinese search-engine giant Baidu of infringing their copyrights. The letter's signers, including prominent blogger Han Han and writer Muron Xuecun, called the company a "thief," saying it was providing unauthorized and free access to their works through its online library, Baidu Wenku. Launched in 2009, Baidu Wenku includes at least 10 million files and books uploaded by netizens whom the company had asked to bear legal responsibility. In February, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative described Baidu as a "notorious market" that enables piracy with "deep linking searches."
* PCWorld 3/17/2011: Baidu's online library accused of piracy by Chinese authors <http://www.pcworld.com/article/222404/baidus_online_library_accused_of_piracy_by_chinese_authors.html>
* The open letter to Baidu 3/15/2011 (in Chinese): <http://ww4.sinaimg.cn/large/467a3a7fjw6df94ajqig8j.jpg>
China closed 130,000 'illegal' cybercafes in six years
On March 17, China's Ministry of Culture, which oversees licensing for cybercafes, released its annual China Internet Cafe Market Report. The report stated that 130,000 "illegal" cafes were closed over the past six years, including 7,000 in 2010 alone. Most were shuttered on the grounds that they served minors under the age of 18. However, the closures have come amid increased surveillance of cybercafe customers and growing government efforts to centralize ownership by merging sole-proprietorships into chains (see CMB No. 10), raising concerns among rights activists that the ministry's "hidden plan" is simply to restrict Chinese netizens' privacy and access to information for political reasons. The report estimated that the country had around 163 million internet cafe users at the end of 2010. This amounted to about a third of all internet users in China, pointing to the importance for the Communist Party of controlling and monitoring the industry. Among other signs of increased surveillance in recent years, customers are now required to register with their government identification card and have their photograph taken, and in some regions, cafe owners must install surveillance cameras that can be monitored by the provincial government.
* Radio Free Asia 3/18/2011: Illegal internet cafes closed <http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/illegal-03182011160906.html>
* China Media Bulletin No. 10: State plan to corral cybercafes threatens anonymity <http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=628#cybercafes>
Shanxi youth commentators to paint the internet red
Shanxi province's State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) is scheduled to launch an "Internet Red Scout" campaign on March 31. Members of the Communist Youth League will be mobilized to monitor online public opinion about the government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with a focus on the officials and state enterprises of Shanxi province. The "red scouts" are required to "counter" at least one negative comment per week and submit a screenshot of the relevant webpage to their supervisors. Separately, on March 14, the CCP Central Party School mouthpiece Study Times listed measures to be taken to control online opinion. The article said officials should "act as ordinary netizens" and post "assertive" messages as early as possible in a discussion. It also suggested hiring China's popular bloggers to form an "online propaganda team," which should be given incentives "based on their performances." As interactive online forums and applications have gained popularity in China, the Chinese authorities have been at the forefront globally in devising methods to proactively manipulate online conversations, often through the use of paid progovernment commentators, dubbed "the Fifty-Cent Party" for their supposed per-comment fees.
* China News Net 3/16/2011: Shanxi government to launch 'internet red scout' campaign to rebut criticism of the party <http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2011/03-16/2911248.shtml>
* Study Times 3/14/2011 (in Chinese): Guiding online public opinion helps improve government's negotiation skills <http://www.studytimes.com.cn:9999/epaper/xxsb/html/2011/03/14/16/16_32.htm>
Apolitical Tibetan website shut down
On March 16, Tibetcul.com, reportedly the most popular Chinese-language Tibetan website, was forcibly shut down by the authorities for "confidential reasons." The web portal, based in China, was known for its information on Tibetan culture and a database of popular Tibetan writers and musicians, but it "seldom tolerated political discussions" and had deleted posts and accounts that were deemed politically sensitive. It had been closed for "maintenance" on Tibetan Uprising Day in March 2009, and after an earthquake hit Yushu in eastern Tibet in May 2010, the site's webmaster demanded that users be "harmonious" and refrain from posting political comments. The current closure comes in the context of a broader increase in security measures and travel restrictions for foreigners in Tibet, in connection with the March anniversary of the Dalai Lama's 1959 flight from the region and the third anniversary of large antigovernment protests.
* Global Voices 3/19/2011: China, Tibet: The end of Tibetcul.com? <http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/03/19/china-tibet-the-end-of-tibetcul-com>
* British Broadcasting Corporation 3/8/2011: China imposes Tibet travel restrictions <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12673461>
Hong Kong police to receive guidelines on web use
According to Hong Kong's assistant commissioner of police, Peter Hunt, the territory's police department is planning to issue guidelines on internet use that will prevent staff from posting confidential information and other inappropriate content. The plan emerged following several incidents in which officers posted photographs or threats on the social-networking website Facebook. The police unions expressed support for the plan, but they also noted the importance of freedom of expression. Current regulations found in the Force Information Security Manual prohibit police officers from using computers at work for gambling, viewing pornography, or managing personal investments.
* South China Morning Post 3/21/2011: Police to get new guidelines on use of web <http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=d0de0cc9e23de210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=Hong+Kong&s=News>
Amendments to Taiwan public TV legislation proposed
On March 24, Taiwan's Public Television Service Foundation, the entity that oversees the country's Public Television Service (PTS), is scheduled to hold a public hearing on draft amendments to its general provisions. Guan Bi-ling, a lawmaker with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), argued that the amendments would effectively extend the foundation board members' terms, which are set to expire this year. Government Information Office Minister Johnny Chiang said that according to existing rules, the current members could continue to serve and implement reforms-even after their terms expired-if the next board elections were postponed. The current board had stirred controversy in September 2010, when it removed the television station's top managers just three months before they were due to step down and eight weeks before municipal elections. On February 26, Sunshine Kuang, former chairperson of the public radio broadcaster and a member of the ruling Kuomintang party, was elected as interim chairperson of the PTS Foundation board.
* Taipei Times 3/22/2011: Public hearing to be held on Public Television Act <http://taipeitimes.net/News/taiwan/archives/2011/03/22/2003498816/1>
* Taiwan PTS News 2/27/2011 (in Chinese): Sunshine Kuang elected PTS chairperson amid personnel change <http://web.pts.org.tw/php/news/pts_news/detail.php?NEENO=171776>
* Freedom House 9/27/2010: Freedom House expresses concern over public television integrity in Taiwan <http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=1251>
Hollywood alters film to avoid offtending Chinese government
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the U.S. film studio, is digitally removing Chinese flags and military symbols from its forthcoming remake of the Cold War drama Red Dawn, replacing them with North Korean emblems. According to the Los Angeles Times, a leaked version of the script had drawn critical comments from the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times last year. MGM's decision reflects China's importance in the global entertainment industry; the country was the fifth-largest box-office market outside the United States in 2010, producing $1.5 billion in revenue. China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) enforces an annual maximum quota of 20 foreign films, which must be released through the state-run China Film Group. The Red Dawn incident is an example of the preemptive self-censorship carried out by some foreign media producers as they seek a greater foothold in the China market, and indicates how such revisions may influence the content consumed by viewers around the world.
* Los Angeles Times 3/16/2011: Reel China: Hollywood tries to stay on China's good side <http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-china-red-dawn-20110316,0,995726.story>
BBC World Service to combat media censorship
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service, the United Kingdom's public international broadcaster, is set to receive at least a million dollars in funding from the U.S. government to combat media censorship abroad. The BBC expects to use the grant to develop software that combats satellite jamming, and circumvention tools that allow netizens in countries such as China to visit its website without government interference. The BBC's controller of strategy and business, Jim Egan, said China's technology for internet control and signal jamming had become "something of an export industry," as other authoritarian regimes have sought to follow Beijing's example.
* Guardian 3/20/2011: BBC World Service to sign funding deal with US state department <http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/mar/20/bbc-world-service-us-funding?CMP=twt_fd>
* Far Eastern Economic Review 10/12/2009: China's export of censorship <http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=72&release=1085>
Indonesia to try radio manager who aired critical Chinese content
The manager of Radio Era Baru, a station based in Indonesia, appeared before a Jakarta administrative court on March 22 to face charges of "broadcasting without authorization and disrupting neighboring frequencies," according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If convicted, the manager, Gatot Machali, could face up to six years in prison. RSF says that the severity of the potential sentence suggests a politically motivated attempt to intimidate him into closing the outlet. The station, a local partner of the Falun Gong-affiliated Sound of Hope network, is known for broadcasting Chinese-language programming that is critical of the Chinese government, including coverage of human rights abuses targeting Falun Gong practitioners, Uighurs, and Tibetans. Under pressure from the Chinese government, Indonesian authorities have repeatedly taken measures since 2005 to shut down the station. In October 2010, Radio Era Baru won an administrative court decision affirming its right to broadcast temporarily, pending a ruling by the Supreme Court (see CMB No. 1).
* Reporters Without Borders 3/23/2011: Local radio station manager facing six-year jail term <http://en.rsf.org/indonesie-local-radio-station-manager-facing-23-03-2011,39854.html>
* China Media Bulletin No. 1: Indonesian radio regains broadcasting rights amid Chinese interference <http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=585#erabaru>