China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 30
A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China
Issue No. 30: July 21, 2011
* Leading investigative journalism team shut down
* Chinese media uncover starvation at detention camp and 'fake citizens'
* Baidu strikes deal with major record labels
* Party mouthpiece questions Cisco role in Chongqing project
* Next Media news channel granted license in Taiwan
Leading investigative journalism team shut down
On July 18, during a meeting held by the China Economic Times Communist Party committee, it was announced that the state-run paper would be dissolving its five-person investigative reporting unit. While officials explained that the decision would allow the publication to focus more on economic news, journalists at the paper and observers speculated that the team, led by renowned journalist Wang Keqin, was shut down because it had produced articles that were critical of the government. These included an exposé on the fatal mismanagement of vaccines in Shanxi in 2010 and a piece on the mysterious death of a land rights activist in 2011. The breakup of Wang's team came just six days after he wrote optimistically about investigative reporting in China on his blog, claiming that "investigative reporters are receiving increasing attention and respect by general society." Wang described investigative journalism in China over the last decade as following a "camel-hump" pattern. It began and grew from 1998 to 2002, peaked in 2003, and dipped from 2004 to 2006 as officials got nervous. Then it rose again in 2007, only to decline in 2008 and 2009 surrounding the Beijing Olympics and the 60th anniversary of Communist rule. Wang felt that investigative reporting was on the upswing again in 2010, given reports like his vaccines revelation. His team's disbandment, amid a broader crackdown on free expression, suggests that 2011 may represent another trough.
* Wall Street Journal 7/19/2011: Beijing state newspaper closes its investigative team <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304567604576453723875263218.html>
* China Media Project 7/12/2011: Veteran reporter: muckraking on the rise in China <http://cmp.hku.hk/2011/07/15/13862>
* International Federation of Journalists 7/19/2011: Prominent China Economic Times investigative journalists suspended <http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/prominent-china-economic-times-investigative-journalists-suspended>
Hollywood blockbusters delayed to salvage Communist film
In another tactic by the government to support a poorly received epic film on the founding of the Communist Party, Hollywood blockbusters such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 are being released weeks behind their premieres in the United States. It was reported that more foreign movies will be delayed in China until the state-sponsored film, the Beginning of the Great Revival, surpasses $120 million in box-office receipts. According to China Digital Times, the Communist Party's Propaganda Department sent out an order on June 16 that prohibited media outlets from carrying negative coverage of the widely panned epic. Other questionable tactics designed to earn money for the film have included physically altering box-office tickets after purchase and requiring state-owned enterprises to arrange theater trips for their employees (see CMB No. 29).
* Time 7/14/2011: China's new parochialism <http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2082959,00.html#ixzz1SkdW1tN3>
* Christian Science Monitor 6/2/2011: Three ways to ensure a movie becomes a blockbuster in China <http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2011/0602/Three-ways-to-ensure-a-movie-becomes-a-blockbuster-in-China>
Latest censorship directives: tire factory strike, food safety, and Chiang Kai-shek
A series of recent media directives allegedly issued by China's State Council Information Office and the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department have been leaked online. The authorities told media outlets repeatedly in June that they must not report on independent candidates who are running for local legislatures. On June 12, all web portals were ordered to remove articles about consumer complaints on Chinese dairy company Yili's products, whose prices have risen in recent months. Other restrictive directives covered a tire factory strike in Changchun, Jilin Province, a blog post commemorating former Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, and any negative reports during a high-profile visit of senior bureaucrats to Zhengzhou in Henan Province. As is common in China, some directives involved requirements to proactively publish certain information. One ordered websites to post a lecture on Communist Party history by a professor at the Central Party School, and to keep it up until the next lecture in his series is available. In a set of directives from Henan, media were told to continue a "secret investigation on the food safety problem," but rather than publish their findings, they are to produce "two reports per week in the form of reference documents for leaders."
* China Digital Times 7/13/2011: Directives from the Ministry of Truth: June 6-29, 2011 <http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/07/directives-from-the-ministry-of-truth-june-6-29>
* Mirror Books 6/10/2011 (in Chinese): Mainland China's hottest blog post: Cherishing Chiang Kai-shek <http://www.mirrorbooks.com/wpmain/?p=56601>
Chinese media uncover starvation at detention camp and 'fake citizens'
Despite China's robust censorship apparatus, netizens and commercial media outlets continue to test the boundaries of permissible coverage and expose official misdeeds. On July 18, Time Weekly reportedly ran a story on the torture and death of an army veteran who was being held at a "legal training camp" for petitioners in Chenggu County, Shanxi Province. The veteran, Xu Lingjun, reportedly died on March 18, 2010, after being starved for nine months at the camp, where he was sent for seeking benefits he was denied after being laid off from a factory job. The magazine Caixin reported that the camp is still in operation and no criminal investigation has been launched. Separately, journalists and netizens in Sichuan Province are alleging that at least two people who participated in public hearings on government policy in Chengdu as supposed "ordinary citizens" were in fact frauds. According to the China Media Project, Sichuan's Huaxi Metropolis Daily reported that Zhang Jiangyuan, who has appeared at multiple hearings, was identified as a chief physician at Huaxi Hospital. But the paper found that he was not listed among the facility's registered personnel. A photograph posted in an online forum last week showed Zhang sitting together at a local tea shop with three other suspicious "ordinary citizens."
* Caixin 7/18/2011: Media report uncovers use of starvation in detention camp <http://english.caing.com/2011-07-18/100280712.html>
* China Media Project 7/15/2011: Online scandal alleges public hearings are rigged <http://cmp.hku.hk/2011/07/15/13845>
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
Ai Weiwei's sister reveals details of detention
On July 15, Gao Ge, the sister of prominent Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei, revealed details of her brother's recent incarceration to the media. Before his release on bail on June 22 in Beijing, Ai was kept in a tiny cell with "six tiles to walk up and down," and was not permitted to read newspapers or books. He claimed to have walked back and forth for a distance equivalent to a trip from Beijing to Shanghai, as he had nothing else to do. Although Ai stated that he was not tortured during his three-month detention, Gao said he was under close surveillance, even during showers, by two guards at a time; she also said he had lost a lot of weight in detention. On July 13, Ai told reporters that he had accepted an offer from the Berlin University of the Arts to serve as a visiting lecturer in 2012. The terms of his release bar him from leaving the country without authorization for one year, but Ai and the university expressed hope that he would be permitted to go.
* Agence France Presse 7/15/2011: Chinese artist was kept in tiny cell: sister <http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i7F5gCxDO-RESEpaDA_epyePeHSQ?docId=CNG.9fbf1bb211a93e1890ad9c91706d0f6e.c1>
* New York Times 7/13/2011: Ai Weiwei, dissident Chinese artist accepts job in Berlin <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/world/asia/14artist.html>
New media sites a tool of Western values, report warns
A report released by the state-financed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) on July 12 says that users of social-networking sites in China reached 235 million in 2010. The figure is nearly half of the country's total online population, which reached 485 million in June, according to official statistics. The report, titled The Development of China's New Media Industry, states that new media sites have provided new ways to shape public opinion and report news, but that they also threaten China's security, as the United States frequently uses them to promote its "Western values." The report indicates that in 2010, China experienced a 41 percent drop in the overall number of websites compared with the previous year-an apparent result of tightened regulations. Meanwhile, a report by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) indicated that the number of people using mobile telephones to surf the web had reached 318 million as of the end of June, a 15 percent increase from the previous year.
* People's Daily 7/12/2011 (in Chinese): Internet has become a tool for the West to export its values <http://politics.people.com.cn/GB/1026/15135416.html>
* BBC 7/13/2011: China: 1.3 million websites shut in 2010 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14138267>
* China Internet Network Information Center 7/19/2011: CNNIC publishes 24th statistical report on internet development in China <http://www.cnnic.net.cn/dtygg/dtgg/201107/t20110719_22132.html>
Independent candidates campaign despite harassment
Independent candidates for China's People's Congresses, local legislatures that hold limited power but are nonetheless potential avenues for gaining the attention of higher authorities, have continued to use online media, including videos and the Sina Weibo microblogging service, to conduct their campaigns and respond to questions from potential voters (see CMB Nos. 24, 27). Some, like Sichuan-based author Li Chengpeng or He Peng from Jiangsu, have also addressed bigger-picture issues like civic empowerment, separation of powers, and democracy in their online posts. Several candidates have reported encountering various forms of official harassment in response. Li has had the internet service at his home mysteriously cut off since July 3. Shanghai businessman Xia Shang reported receiving a visit from officials with the Ministry of State Security, who informed him that two companies he runs had been "randomly" selected for a tax audit, though they passed the routine annual inspection without trouble the previous month.
* Global Voices 7/17/2011: China independent candidates busy building up support <http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/07/17/china-independent-candidates-busy-building-up-support>
Swedish student deported for microblog posting, rally call
Sven Englund, a 24-year-old Swedish student at Shanghai's Fudan University, was deported on July 9 after he posted on his microblog a letter that was critical of the Communist Party and called for a flash mob for freedom. Englund invited netizens to meet in downtown Shanghai on the evening of July 1, with "Freedom" written in Chinese on their bodies. He also invited President Hu Jintao to attend. He was soon approached by a teacher at the university, who told him that he must cancel the event and remove the post from his microblog, though he could no longer log in. Before his deportation, three policemen visited his apartment, confiscated his passport, and interrogated him for 10 hours. He was then charged with "involvement in jeopardizing social management" and had his student visa revoked.
* Epoch Times 7/17/2011: Swedish exchange student deported from China over blog post <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/china/swedish-exchange-student-deported-from-china-over-blog-post-59203.html>
Netizen sent to prison after posting misleading photos
On July 14, a netizen named Chen Menglin was convicted of inciting public violence by the local court in Guangzhou's Zengcheng County. He was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for having written on his microblog on July 11 about a confrontation between a pregnant street vendor and local police in the factory town of Xintang. That incident led to a mass street protest joined by more than a thousand migrant workers on July 12. Chen's post, titled "Pregnant woman's husband beaten to death," featured photographs of damaged cars and infrastructure that he had taken with his mobile telephone, but which related to a different clash in Xintang. According to the verdict, the sensational, mismatched title proved his intention to spread rumor and disturb public order.
* Yang Cheng Evening News 7/15/2011 (in Chinese): Man sentenced to 1.5 year for blogging about Guangzhou Zengcheng incident <http://news.163.com/11/0715/15/791005T400014AED.html>
Baidu strikes deal with major record labels
On July 19, the Chinese search-engine giant Baidu announced that it had signed a licensing deal with three U.S.-based record labels, under which users will be able to legally download and stream 500,000 songs for free on its music platform, Baidu Ting. The company will pay One-Stop China-a joint venture of Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony BMG-each time a song is downloaded or played on its service. It will also share part of the advertising revenues and provide artists with promotional support. On the previous day, Baidu and the record companies had also agreed to end all outstanding litigation. The agreement demonstrates Baidu's willingness and ability to move toward a legitimate business model with respect to international copyright rules, even as it continues to enforce Communist Party censorship directives that violate international standards for free expression.
* New York Times 7/19/2011: China's biggest search engine, known for illegal downloads, makes music deal <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/technology/baidu-chinas-search-giant-announces-music-licensing-deal.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=business>
Party mouthpiece questions Cisco role in Chongqing project
On July 7, a day after the Wall Street Journal spotlighted human rights concerns surrounding the participation of U.S. information technology firm Cisco Systems in the world's largest urban surveillance project in Chongqing (see CMB No. 28), the Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times opposed the deal on different grounds, criticizing the idea of awarding such sensitive contracts to U.S. companies. Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler wrote in a July 6 blog posting that the company had declined to supply surveillance cameras or related software to China, explaining that it was only providing standard networking equipment to support Chongqing's broader "e-government" initiatives, which include a public safety component. Nevertheless, the Global Times article made no such distinctions, expressing alarm at the installation of "U.S. cameras" and calling for Chongqing to "use domestic surveillance cameras only." Separately, on July 14, local media reported that Shenzhen's municipal government had installed more than 30,000 surveillance cameras in public spaces and stadiums as part of the security measures for the upcoming Summer Universiade, an international college sports event to be held from August 13 to 16.
* Global Times 7/7/2011: US camera case seen through political lens <http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/665019/US-camera-case-seen-through-political-lens.aspx>
* MSNBC 7/8/2011: Cisco's pending China sale raises concern from…Chinese? <http://behindthewall.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/07/08/7042919-ciscos-pending-china-sale-raises-concern-from-chinese>
* Cisco Blog 7/6/2011: Cisco responds to Wall Street Journal article on China <http://blogs.cisco.com/news/cisco-responds-to-wall-street-journal-article-on-china>
* Southern Metropolis Daily 7/14/2011: Surveillance cameras cover major public spaces in Shenzhen <http://gd.nfdaily.cn/content/2011-07/14/content_26673126.htm>
Journalists call for radio market diversification
Hong Kong residents seeking to launch community radio stations face both technical and political obstacles. The Hong Kong government, rather than an independent regulator, controls radio licensing in the territory. Journalists like former radio commentator Albert Cheng are pushing for Hong Kong to adopt digital audio broadcasting, which would facilitate the entry of more FM stations. But observers say the government is reluctant to do so because the authorities in Beijing are wary of uncensored broadcasts that could easily reach the mainland. The existing FM frequencies are mostly allocated to well-financed stations backed by pro-Beijing businesses, according to Dominic Fok Wai-pong, who operates a "pirate" radio station, FM101. Volunteer broadcasters at the station record shows about political and social issues in Hong Kong and China. In recent years, another station, the prodemocracy Citizen Radio, has repeatedly encountered raids, confiscation of equipment, and legal cases as the authorities seek to obstruct its broadcasts.
* Voice of America 7/12/2011: Radio broadcasters seek to overcome limitations in Hong Kong <http://www.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Radio-Broadcasters-Seek-to-Overcome-Limitations-in-Hong-Kong-125460473.html>
* Freedom of the Press 2010: Hong Kong <http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=251&year=2010>
Uighur prisoner's family faces persecution
The families of Uyghur political prisoners in Xinjiang are facing financial troubles in addition to police harassment. One couple in Ili prefecture named Abdusemet and Meryembuwi, who live on a monthly pension of 1,500 yuan ($230), spoke to Radio Free Asia about their plight. Their oldest son was given a 10-year prison sentence for separatism in April 2009 after he sold books and videos about Islam. Their second son, jailed along with his brother, was released after he began to suffer from mental illness apparently caused by abuse in prison. Their unemployed father, Abdusemet, had also been temporarily detained for allegedly helping his youngest son flee Xinjiang. The family has to send money to their jailed son and also cover the medical expenses of the second son. Meryembuwi, the mother, said it might be better if they were all living in jail. Other families of political prisoners report being denied access to social services and forced to live on the donations of fellow Uighurs, who risk retribution for assisting "blacklisted" individuals.
* Radio Free Asia 7/15/2011: Virtual jail for prisoner families <http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/families-07152011125323.html>
Next Media news channel granted license in Taiwan
On July 20, Taiwan's media regulator, the National Communications Commissions (NCC), approved a bid by Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai's Next Media Group to launch a news channel, having repeatedly rejected the company's application for a license since August 2009. Lai, who told the NCC that the ongoing News of the World voicemail-hacking scandal in Britain had prompted him to do a lot of "soul-searching," agreed to leave sex and violence out of his trademark computer-animated news dramatizations, which are said to mix fact and rumor on sensational topics (see CMB No. 4). According to the NCC, in six months, a committee consisting of media experts and members of children's and women's rights groups will be set up to monitor the new channel, which Lai has promised will only report on well-substantiated stories. Lai, a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party and its human rights record, owns other publications, including the popular Apple Daily newspaper, which mixes hard-hitting investigative journalism with tabloid-style stories.
* China Post 7/21/2011: Next TV's Lai granted news channel license <http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/2011/07/21/310543/Next-TVs.htm>
* Agence France-Presse 7/20/2011: Taiwan OKs HK media mogul's TV news channel <http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ilEbA0ha29GyffqV-AaAfHeI6ucA?docId=CNG.d81a9121385076139720a70c94b6e3f2.191>
Dissidents less likely to get clemency than spies
A study by the U.S.-based rights group Dui Hua Foundation, posted on July 18, indicates that the Chinese government is less lenient with its political dissidents than with those accused of spying or even ordinary criminals. In recent years, prisoners convicted of speech and association offenses have rarely received sentence reductions, with none on record since 2009. By contrast, numerous high-profile individuals convicted of espionage have been granted clemency or sentence reductions from 2009 to 2011, despite the fact that such crimes are considered by most countries to be the greatest threat to national security.
* Dui Hua Human Rights Journal 7/18/2011: Of Spies and Dissidents <http://www.duihuahrjournal.org/2011/07/of-spies-and-dissidents.html>
Security concerns surround Chongqing cloud-computing zone
In the July 15 issue of China Brief, the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation published an article by researcher Matthew Luce analyzing a plan by officials in the Chinese megacity Chongqing to build Asia's largest cloud-computing zone. As part of the municipal government's plan, foreign investors in the special zone will be provided with cloud computing services and uncensored internet access (see CMB No. 26). However, the Chinese government's track record of apparently stealing sensitive data from foreign entities, and the fact that Chongqing is located in a region with high earthquake risks, raise doubts about how many foreign companies might store information on the Chinese cloud.
* Jamestown Foundation 7/15/2011: China Brief Volume 11, Issue 13: Cloud Computing Zone Tests "Chongqing Model" <http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=38182&tx_ttnews[backPid]=25&cHash=72321233084f675ce630e180e603dbcb>