BROADCAST / PRINT MEDIA NEWS
As Beijing vows to tackle ‘fake news,’ state TV is caught red handed
In recent weeks, the Chinese authorities have renewed efforts to crack down on what they call “fake news.” In an interview published in the January 26 edition of Press and Publications Report, a magazine owned by the state-run news agency Xinhua, senior propaganda-training official Zhai Huisheng said that 10 teams were being sent to 14 provinces to improve the journalistic discipline of reporters, a growing number of whom purportedly “lack a clear grasp of the big picture and are not politically steadfast.” David Bandurski of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University observed that it is hard to discern what is actually fake news in the Chinese context because the government has “an active interest in suppressing the truth.” Due to government controls and increased media commercialization, the Chinese press often find it safer and more profitable to avoid politically sensitive topics in favor of allegedly inaccurate but potentially popular stories. Ironically, the Zhai interview appeared shortly after the main state broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), was caught using footage of fighter jets from the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun as part of a January 23 news segment on a Chinese military drill.
Outspoken columnist fired for 'inappropriate' writing
On January 27, prominent columnist Chang Ping was removed from his research position at Guangzhou-based Southern Daily Group, a prominent newspaper publisher whose outlets are known for pushing the boundaries of permissible speech. Executive editor Zhuang Shenzhi said the company had decided not to extend Chang’s contract because his work was “inappropriate.” Chang is known for frequently writing about politically sensitive topics, including democracy, media censorship, and government policy failures. In late 2008, Chang was removed as deputy chief editor and commentator for Southern Metropolis Weekly after he published an editorial questioning the official portrayal of Tibetan protests and arguing that foreign media should be allowed to freely cover events in the region. In an interview with the New York Times, Chang said his firing came in the context of tightening media censorship since jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
Jailed writer beaten after release
On January 24, He Depu, a Beijing-based writer and founding member of the banned China Democracy Party (CDP), was beaten by police after being released from Beijing’s No. 2 Prison and openly calling for an end to one-party rule outside the prison gate. In November 2002, He had been sentenced to eight years and two months in prison on charges of “subversion of state power” that stemmed from his pro-CDP writings. His friends were reportedly warned not to meet with him after his release. Several prominent writers and activists have recently completed long prison terms, but have continued to face official harassment, surveillance, and arbitrary detention even after their release dates.
NEW MEDIA / TECHNOLOGY NEWS
China censors web content on Egypt protests
The Chinese authorities have extensively censored online information about Egyptian citizens’ ongoing protests against their authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak. Analysts say the topic has been flagged as sensitive given the obvious parallels with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest movement and growing unrest in China over corruption. Searches for “Egypt” on popular chat rooms, major news portals like Sina.com and Netease.com, and microblogs are returned with error messages. Beijing has also ordered news sites to run only state-run Xinhua news agency’s articles on the topic, which have focused on the Chinese government’s efforts to evacuate its citizens from Egypt. Global Times, a sister newspaper of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, ran an editorial on its website emphasizing that democracy is not appropriate for all societies and “is still far away for Egypt.” Although the censorship efforts have kept the issue off the front pages of news portals and other websites, internet expert Xiao Qiang of the University of California, Berkeley, says netizen discussion is active on some social-networking sites, including Kaixin and Renren. Participants have been using homophones and other code words to express their sentiments.
Chinese netizens discuss Tunisian revolt
Despite Beijing’s efforts to censor news on antigovernment protests in the Middle East and North Africa, some comments on the successful January 14 ouster of longtime Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali have circulated on China’s internet. The Epoch Times has gathered a sampling of messages posted by Chinese netizens:
- “Within the past decades, South Korea, Taiwan, the former Soviet Union and many Eastern European countries transformed into democracies. Today, Tunisia became one of them.”
- “I believe Tunisia’s protests will happen in China one day…just not sure if it will be before or after North Korea.”
- “Ben Ali’s end shows that ordinary citizens are ‘unreliable.’ Do not underestimate them. They don’t lack the courage to rebel.”
- “Yesterday’s Soviet Union is today’s Tunisia. The fall of its regime is both shocking and confusing as the ruler had never followed the rule of law.”
Satirical New Year’s video blocked, ‘harmonious’ content promoted
Chinese censors have been removing from the web a satirical animated video that marked the upcoming Year of the Rabbit by mocking a series of scandals that have sparked public anger against the authorities. In the video, a group of baby rabbits die from drinking milk—a clear reference to a 2008 scandal in which tainted milk killed six infants and made an estimated 300,000 ill. When the rabbit parents complain to the ruling tigers, they are beaten by thugs, have their homes bulldozed, and are run over by cars. The video ends with an uprising by the rabbits against the brutal tiger regime, and a character saying “it will really be an interesting year.” The video remains available on YouTube, which is blocked in China. Meanwhile, the State Council Information Office (SCIO) launched the First Annual National Exhibition of Heartwarming Blogs and Online Posts as part of an effort to raise the profile of user-generated content for the Chinese New Year that conforms to government views. According to the SCIO, the content created will “reflect our contemporary view of stable unity, social harmony, and universal renewal.”
Censorship authorities target internet marketers
In January, China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) intensified efforts to regulate domestic private internet marketers, which are paid by companies ranging from Dove Soap to China Mobile to post “soft advertising messages” on China’s popular message boards and blogs. As they have shown a strong capacity to influence public opinion, SCIO said the marketers have “disrupted normal communication order.” Last year, Chinese dairy company Mengniu paid one marketing firm to spread a rumor that deep-sea fish oil, an ingredient used by its competitor Yili, had dangerous health effects. By October 2010, the smear campaign had led to the arrest of a senior executive at Mengniu and three marketers it had hired. According to the Washington Post, the authorities are concerned in part by the potential use of these heavily staffed marketing “armies” to turn public opinion against the government. At both the central and local level, Communist Party officials are known to run similar schemes, paying individuals to post progovernment comments and counter criticism in online forums.
Hong Kong TV station announces ownership change
On January 26, Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) announced the sale of key stakes in the company by 103-year-old media mogul Run Run Shaw to Cher Wang, cofounder of the Taiwanese telecommunications company HTC; Hong Kong venture capitalist Charles Chan; and the U.S.-based private investment firm Providence Equity. Analysts said the ownership change would expand TVB’s scope beyond Hong Kong and allow it to establish a presence in Taiwan, as HTC may choose to stream TVB shows on its popular smart phones. TVB is also expected to become more aggressive in providing content to television channels in China. Tom Wang, a prominent Taiwanese media commentator, speculated that politics had played a role in the ownership change, arguing that TVB, a pro-China media giant, could not have sold stakes to “outsiders” without first seeking consent from Beijing.
TIBET & XINJIANG
Imprisoned Tibetan writers waive appeals
According to Radio Free Asia, Kalsang Jinpa, Jangtse Donkho, and Buddha, three Tibetan writers who were sentenced in December to between three and four years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion,” have decided not to appeal. They reportedly felt that an appeal would be useless after the judge who sentenced them admitted that the decision to imprison them came from “high authorities,” and after seeing the unfair conduct of the first trial, in which they had no legal representation. The writers were detained in June and July 2010 after publishing pro-Tibet articles in a Tibetan-language magazine, Shar Dungri. In April 2011, they will begin hard-labor sentences in Sichuan province’s Mian Yang prison.
Urumqi thoroughly covered by surveillance cameras
On January 25, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported that 17,000 high-definition surveillance cameras with protective shells had been installed in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, during 2010, with more monitoring equipment to be set up in 2011. Wang Yannian, head of Urumqi’s information technology office, said surveillance is seamless in certain areas of the city, covering all blind spots. According to the Associated Press, authorities have been known to install cameras around mosques in Xinjiang, in Buddhist temples in Tibet, and in other parts of China. One British consultancy firm reported in late 2010 that over 10 million surveillance cameras would be installed in the country that year. Following protests in Tibet in 2008, authorities reportedly used images from surveillance cameras to identify and arrest participants.
China boosts ties with state media in Syria and Zambia
The Chinese government and state-run media continue to expand their influence in Africa and the Middle East. On January 24, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Syria’s official media outlet, launched a Chinese-language service. This followed a September 2010 agreement between SANA and Beijing’s Xinhua news agency to share news bulletins on economics, investment, and tourism. Also on January 24, Zambia and China signed a memorandum of understanding on press, publication, and copyright protection. The signing ceremony was attended by Liu Bin Jie, minister of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication, which enforces state media regulations. In 2006, the Chinese government donated transmitters to the Zambia National Broadcasting Company, as well as printing presses to the Zambia News and Information Services and the Times of Zambia. All three news outlets are state controlled and known for their progovernment bias. Both Syria and Zambia were ranked Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010, the most recent edition of Freedom House’s annual survey of global media freedom.
Taiwan’s president will add you as a friend
On January 28, Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou unveiled his page on the Facebook social-networking website with a video greeting. Shortly after its launch, some 3,000 users had indicated that they “liked” the page. According to Agence France-Presse, Taiwanese politicians often use personal blogs and social-networking sites to appeal to voters.