China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 20
A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
Issue No. 20: April 28, 2011
* Well-known author barred from attending overseas literary events
* Internet posting exposes misuse of charity funds
* Chinese media figures listed among world's 'most influential people'
* Facebook lobbyist hints at willingness to censor for China access
* Beijing deepens media ties with Kenya and Turkey amid global push
Police harass foreign reporters at banned Easter service
On April 24, CNN correspondent Stan Grant and his crew were briefly detained when they attempted to report on an unauthorized outdoor Easter service in downtown Beijing organized by Shouwang Church, an unregistered Protestant group that has complained of being denied an indoor meeting space. The journalists' credentials were confiscated, and hundreds of police officers prevented them from accessing the area. At least 36 church members who joined the congregation were taken into custody. Shouwang's senior pastor, Jin Tianming, is now under house arrest, and the church's website has been made inaccessible. At another Sunday service held by Shouwang in Beijing on April 10, Bill Schiller of the Toronto Star was interrogated for three hours after he took photographs of participants and the police.
* New York Times 4/24/2011: China detains church members at Easter services <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/asia/25church.html?src=me>
* CNN 4/24/2011: Church officials: Chinese authorities block Easter service in Beijing <http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/04/24/china.easter.crackdown/index.html>
Well-known author barred from attending overseas literary events
Liao Yiwu, a prominent Sichuan-based writer and a board member of the literary rights group Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), has been barred from leaving China to attend the PEN World Voices Festival in New York, which began on April 25, and the Sydney Writers' Festival on May 16. Chinese authorities have rejected 14 exit-visa applications from Liao over the last three years, and even forcibly removed him from a plane in Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital, in March 2010. Liao is best known for his 2009 nonfiction book The Corpse Walker, which relays the experiences of 27 Chinese from the "bottom rungs of society," including a public restroom manager, a street musician, the father of a Tiananmen Square massacre victim, and two elderly Falun Gong practitioners. Liao was reportedly asked to sign an agreement that he would no longer seek to publish "illegal" books abroad. Some observers fear he may face criminal charges when his new book, God Is Red, is published in the United States in August. According to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), at least 49 writers are currently jailed, detained, or under house arrest in China. Seven of the ICPC's members are in prison, including 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo.
* PEN American Center/IFEX 4/27/2011: Government bars writer Liao Yiwu from attending PEN festival in New York <http://www.ifex.org/china/2011/04/27/travel_ban>
* SFGate 5/18/2008: Liao Yiwu's 'Corpse Walker' tales from China <http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-05-18/books/17154762_1_china-liao-yiwu-translator>
Writer faces 15 years in prison for influence peddling
Shi Dongbing, a controversial writer who claimed to have close relations with senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, was sentenced on April 24 to 15 years in prison for fraud. He was convicted of receiving a total of 3.44 million yuan ($528,000) from eight individuals who asked him to help them obtain promotions and approval for projects through his connections. Beijing-based Caijing magazine said the eight included a former deputy director of the Bank of Beijing and a former party secretary at the city of Shenzhen's land development center. Families of nine former CCP leaders, including Hu Yaobang and Hua Guofeng, accused Shi of fabricating interviews with them in his books, which were mostly published in Hong Kong. Shi and his lawyer denied the charges. Shi had become a household name in 2009, when he used his blog to detail corruption allegations against former Shenzhen mayor Xu Zongheng, who himself went on trial for graft earlier this month. Although some of Shi's writings have met with widespread skepticism, the lack of independent reporting on the case, the typically limited independence of judges and lawyers in trials involving high-profile leaders, and recent patterns in which the government uses bribery allegations to discredit investigative reporting all raise questions about the fairness of the proceedings against him.
* South China Morning Post 4/26/2011: Jail for writer who tackled disgraced mayor <http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=5364a4fcf8d8f210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=China&s=News>
* Global Times 4/26/2011: 'Political writer' gets 15 years <http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2011-04/648561.html>
* Danwei 8/18/2009 Muckracking author Shi Dongbing accused of fabricating his "inside information" <http://www.danwei.org/scholarship_and_education/shi_dongbing_history_xu_zonghe.php>
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Baidu to be punished for illegal music offerings
China's state news agency Xinhua reported on April 25 that 14 music-search websites, including one operated by the Chinese search-engine giant Baidu, will be punished by the Ministry of Culture for allowing users to download audio files that have not undergone content examination. Details regarding the punishment were not specified. The authorities had instructed all search engines, web portals, and entertainment websites to remove "illegal" content by February 28. Baidu spokesperson Kaiser Kuo said the company has sought to comply with previous notices, and plans to launch a licensed music-search service in May. On April 1, Baidu signed a deal with the Music Copyright Society of China (MCSC), which will be paid by Baidu each time users download or stream songs provided by MCSC on Baidu's website.
* Reuters 4/25/2011: China to punish Baidu for illegal music search service <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/25/baidu-idUSL3E7FP0WD20110425>
* China News Net 4/25/2011 (in Chinese): Baidu, Xunlei, and other internet companies to be investigated by Culture Ministry <http://finance.huanqiu.com/roll/2011-04/1651911.html>
* Wall Street Journal 4/1/2011: Baidu to pay songwriters for downloads <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703806304576236721849797428.html>
* China Media Bulletin No. 6: Culture Ministry to remove website with 'illegal music' <http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=596#download>
Chinese microblogging service seeks non-Chinese users
The popular Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo, which has grown to more than 100 million users since its launch in August 2009, added an English-language interface to its iPhone application in April. Sina chief executive Charles Chao said on April 20 that the company plans to introduce other languages so that users outside of China can experience the service, though some observers have also interpreted the move as a means of enabling potential foreign investors to understand the application's features. U.S.-based social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, and many English-speaking foreign celebrities, including Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates and film star Tom Cruise, have turned to Weibo to reach Chinese audiences. Sina Weibo's expansion is an important test case for how domestic Chinese social-media applications compete for foreign users, and whether they censor foreign-language content according to Communist Party directives as they do for local users.
* PC World 4/26/2011: Chinese Twitter-like service looks to add other languages <http://news.yahoo.com/s/pcworld/20110427/tc_pcworld/chinesetwitterlikeservicelookstoaddotherlanguages>
* Wall Street Journal 4/25/2011: Sina Weibo iPhone app, now in English <http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/04/25/chinas-sina-rolls-out-english-interface-on-weibo-iphone-app>
Internet posting exposes misuse of charity funds
On April 15, a former restaurant employee revealed wasteful spending at the Shanghai branch of the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) by posting a 9,859 yuan ($1,509) meal receipt on a microblogging site, sparking a public outcry over the misuse of donations. It was later confirmed that 17 staffers had improperly used RCSC funds to dine at the restaurant. The RCSC admitted that the posting had damaged its reputation and said it planned to set up an information platform to increase its transparency. In recent years, the organization has received tens of millions of dollars in donations for relief work, including a reported $225 million in 2008 following the Sichuan earthquake. Reflecting the government's sensitivity to the issue, on April 16, the State Council Information Office (SCIO) reportedly ordered websites not to report on the scandal and asked all online interactive spaces to remove relevant discussions.
* Xinhua 4/19/2011: China's Red Cross Society promises enhanced transparency following luxury feast scandal <http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-04/19/c_13836505.htm>
* East Day Net 4/22/2011 (in Chinese): Microblog posting of dinner receipt spells trouble for district Red Cross in China <http://news.qq.com/a/20110422/000025.htm>
Latest censorship targets include U.S. human rights report
A list of recent media directives allegedly issued by China's State Council Information Office (SCIO) has been leaked online. On April 13, five days after the U.S. State Department issued its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the SCIO ordered all web portals to repost a commentary from the state-run Xinhua news agency-"Must the American-style lies continue to be told?"-on their home pages. It also called for the removal of any relevant discussion of "29 Differences Between Democratic Countries and Autocratic Countries," a list that has been widely circulated on China's web forums and microblogs. Other directives ordered restrictions on reporting related to a gas explosion in Beijing, an attack on a student in Yunnan, and "information meant to attack the Party, government, and social system."
* China Digital Times 3/31/2011: Latest directives from the Ministry of Truth: <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/04/latest-directives-from-the-ministry-of-truth-april-11-april-19-2011>
* China Digital Times 4/13/2011: Censored posting: 29 differences between democratic countries and autocratic countries <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese/2011/04/%E8%A2%AB%E7%A6%81%E7%BD%91%E6%96%87%EF%BC%9A%E6%B0%91%E4%B8%BB%E5%9B%BD%E5%AE%B6%E4%B8%8E%E4%B8%93%E5%88%B6%E5%9B%BD%E5%AE%B6%E7%9A%8429%E6%9D%A1%E5%8C%BA%E5%88%AB>
Xinhua downplays Tibetan monastery crackdown
Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, said the local atmosphere was "friendly" after a Tibetan monk at Kirti monastery in Ngaba county, Sichuan province, set himself on fire on March 16 to commemorate the third anniversary of a 2008 Tibetan uprising, and to protest the subsequent crackdown by Chinese security forces. The article added that the monk, named Phuntsok, was accompanied by local police to the hospital, but that other monks insisted on taking him back to the monastery. He ultimately died of his injuries. Contrary to the claims of calm, however, a video obtained by Voice of America's Tibetan news service shows a large security presence in the area of the monastery. According to Amnesty International, at least 11 Tibetans have been detained in the wake of Phuntsok's self-immolation. Foreigners, including journalists, have reportedly been banned from entering the affected part of Sichuan province, and most means of communication with the area have been obstructed.
* Agence France-Presse 4/21/2011: Tibetan monastery crackdown video emerges <http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110421/wl_afp/chinatibetunrestrights_20110421055546>
* Voice of America 4/21/2011: Kirti monastery crackdown video emerges <http://www.voanews.com/tibetan-english/news/New-Video-from-Ngaba-120355694.html>
* Amnesty International 4/19/2011: China: Tibetans detained after supporting dead monk <http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA17/021/2011/en/d75f7611-be66-4d5a-9391-c80c43501d56/asa170212011en.html>
Chinese media figures listed among world's 'most influential people'
On April 21, Time magazine published its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The roster includes a number of Chinese individuals who have changed China's media landscape:
- Charles Chao is the president and chief executive of the Chinese web portal Sina, which owns the country's popular Weibo microblogging service. Chao acknowledges that Weibo is censored, but it is used by 200 million netizens, including Chinese and overseas celebrities, athletes, and activists. <http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2066367_2066369_2066392,00.html>
- Ai Weiwei, a prominent artist, blogger, and activist who helped design the Beijing Olympic stadium, is known for advocating political reforms and social justice. Ai, who has apparently been detained incommunicado by Chinese authorities since April 3, is described as one of China's "most innovative and illustrious" citizens. <http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2066367_2066369_2066464,00.html>
- Hu Shuli is the founder of Beijing-based business magazine Caijing, which the Time commentary says "shook up China's media landscape." Caijing is known as one of the few liberal publications in China, and it frequently carries exclusive and investigative reports that the Chinese government may find politically sensitive. Hu and other key staff left Caijing in late 2009 and recently launched a new publication, Caixin, with a similar journalistic approach. <http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2066367_2066369_2066503,00.html>
- Hung Huang is a television host, popular blogger, and publisher of a previously state-owned fashion magazine, iLook. She is known for her witty writing, and has a column in the China Daily, a state-run English-language newspaper. <http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2066367_2066369_2066139,00.html>
* Diplomat 4/22/2011: Time's 100 most influential <http://the-diplomat.com/china-power/2011/04/22/china-and-time%E2%80%99s-100-most-influential>
Facebook lobbyist hints at willingness to censor for China access
On April 20, the Wall Street Journal reported that Adam Conner, a Washington, DC-based lobbyist for the popular social-networking site Facebook, said the company might "block certain content in some countries," as it is allowing users "too much" free speech. The remarks came after earlier reports, including comments by founder Mark Zuckerberg, indicated that Facebook hoped to enter the Chinese market, where it is currently blocked. The vast majority of China's 400 million internet users currently turn to domestic social-networking sites, including Kaixin and Renren, that comply with Beijing's censorship directives. An April 23 editorial in the Washington Post expressed concern that Facebook might follow other U.S. technology companies, including Yahoo! and Microsoft, in compromising on fundamental values like freedom of expression in exchange for access to even a small share of the Chinese market. Internet freedom advocates have also warned that any agreement with Beijing might require Facebook to turn over information about users to the Chinese authorities, with potentially harmful consequences.
* Washington Post 4/23/2011: Facebook's free-speech problem <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/facebooks-free-speech-problem/2011/04/21/AFNYwzWE_story.html>
* Wall Street Journal 4/20/2011: Facebook seeking friends in beltway <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703789104576273242590724876.html>
Site hosting Ai Weiwei release petition disabled by hackers
On April 18, the popular U.S.-based social campaign website Change.org was rendered inaccessible by distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks originating in China. The website was hit after it hosted a petition calling for the release of China's top artist and blogger, Ai Weiwei, who has been detained incommunicado by authorities in Beijing since April 3. Change.org founder Ben Rattray said the petition, which was currently the most popular campaign on the site, was probably the cause of the attack. It had gathered 90,000 signatures within two weeks of its launch by directors of renowned museums, including the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
* Guardian 4/20/2011: Ai Weiwei campaign website 'victim of Chinese hackers' <http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/apr/20/ai-weiwei-campaign-website-chinese-hackers>
Beijing deepens media cooperation with Kenya and Turkey amid global push
On April 21, Li Changchun, the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda chief and a Politburo Standing Committee member, attended the China-Africa Media Conference in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Also participating were representatives from the two countries' state-run news agencies, including China's Xinhua news agency and China Central Television, and Kenya's National Media Group and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. Separately, on April 18, state-run China Radio International (CRI) signed an agreement with Turkey's national broadcaster, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), in Ankara, Turkey's capital. According to the agreement, the two countries will set up training sessions and jointly produce programs. Both Kenya and Turkey are rated Partly Free in Freedom House's Freedom of the Press 2010 report, while China is ranked Not Free. The above cooperation plans come amid a broader push by the Chinese Communist Party to expand its media presence overseas. In Southeast Asia, CRI reportedly streams English-language programming 24 hours a day. Hong Kong-based commentator Andy Yee has observed, however, that Beijing's tight grip on editorial content created a credibility problem for its television and radio outlets, limiting their global impact.
* Xinhua 4/22/2011: China-Africa media cooperation - a joint force for truth <http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/indepth/2011-04/22/c_13841508.htm>
* CRIENGLISH 4/19/2011 (in Chinese): Chinese and Turkish state radios sign cooperation agreement <http://gb.cri.cn/27824/2011/04/19/2225s3222131.htm>
* Public Broadcasting Service 4/19/2011: China makes global media push, but skeptics abound <http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2011/04/china-makes-global-media-push-but-skeptics-abound109.html>
* Undermining Democracy 6/4/2009: China: Resilient, sophisticated authoritarianism <http://www.underminingdemocracy.org/china/international>