View Full Version : China ratchets up control on expression

Jan 4, 2006, 19:58
China ratchets up control on expression

January 03, 2006

A top editor was fired, web logs and cellphones have been restricted.

BEIJING – An emotional strike by 100 journalists at this city's most popular and lively newspaper follows a 16-month campaign to quash a broad range of "unapproved" public speech in areas verging on politics or society - a campaign that includes Internet blogs, and new restrictions on cellphones designed to smoke outsenders of renegade text messages.

In the case of Beijing News, whose progressive editor Yang Bin was replaced without warning last week, Chinese authorities dealt a seemingly fatal blow to a publishing project that two years ago gave the press some freedom to experiment.

Last June the paper reported on violent land disputes in Hebei province, and last month, in what may have precipitated the purge, it published tame, but independent, stories on the official coverup of a massive benzene chemical spill in the Songhua River.

Last Thursday, in a gritty south Beijing neighborhood, nearly 100 reporters left the news offices. They began a short-lived strike - a rarity in China - and signed a petition asking for Mr. Yang's reinstatement, describing the removal as a tragedy. Some wept publicly, according to sources at the meeting.

"We were happy with our paper and the idea we had. But now the editor is leaving and the idea will leave with him. I am very sad," said a journalist who spoke with foreign reporters despite the presence of security officials and a warning that she could lose her job.

While Beijing News is often described as "radical" or "bold" - it would not warrant that definition in a Western setting. The thick daily tabloid is a subtle blend of eye-catching photos, pop culture, and real-life stories about the good, bad, and ugly. Interspersed are full-page ads for clothes and credit cards that appealed to an aspiring urban middle class.

Editor Yang, who cut his teeth in the looser commercial media climate of south China, brought a professional ethos that captured the imagination of staffers. As one put it, "He asked us to be responsible, accurate, and true. He is a model for me and a man with high standards. I would hope that some day I could be like him."

Yet Beijing News was mainly quite moderate, not crusading - and many Chinese journalists say the real message behind Yang's removal is that even slight divergences from moderate norms may be punished. This discourages testing the boundaries of free expression, they say, since any paper could lose its license or leadership.

The sudden move on Beijing News is part of a systematic effort by the central propaganda department in Beijing to more-closely police speech and expression. In the past year, the party initiated the broadest ideological education campaign in a decade. In part, that campaign discourages liberality and freedom of expression. The official news service Xinhua this week, in fact, selected this party campaign as its No. 1 story of 2005, calling it "a massive political and ideological education drive among more than 68 million CPC members to maintain their moral and socialist ethical superiority, a new, great project to promote Party construction."

As a result, in the past year "public intellectuals" that spoke out on social welfare or the environment have been curbed from doing so in state media.

Last summer a set of editors resigned from the Economic Times citing a loss of the paper's core values. A plan by China Youth Daily to tie reporters' salary bonuses to the degree of praise by party officials was narrowly scotched. Last week the monthly magazine Bai Xing, whose readership is similar to that of Beijing News, was told to remove its interactive web commentary, its investigative news department, and the magazine's slogan, "recording China in change."

Bai Xing editor Huang Liangtian was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that "we are required to focus more on culture and lifestyle topics."

Blogs, college message boards, and cellphone text messages have been censured or shut down. Just Monday a new policy was announced that will require some 200 million Chinese to provide proof of identity before buying prepaid cellphone cards.

The controlling share of Beijing News is owned by a conservative southern media group whose flagship is the conservative and often cash-strapped Guangming Daily. Editors from that paper took control after Yang and at least one other top deputy editor were forced out. Beijing Daily staffers worried that the unusual combination of letters to the editor - a rarity in Chinese papers - and stories about official corruption and official apologies, would sour the public on their paper.

In the past 10 days, two Chinese journalists in prison for alleged violations of state security laws are reportedly being prepared for trial. The cases of Zhao Yan, an assistant for The New York Times, and Ching Cheong, a veteran Hong Kong reporter, have languished for months, but now may be heard within six weeks. Numerous press freedom groups, including the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, have vigorously protested the charges, as well as the chilling effect it has on the work of ordinary news gathering. Mr. Ching was arrested in China while on a trip to procure manuscripts from the late premier Zhao Ziyang, who until his passing a year ago lived under house arrest after opposing violence at Tiananmen square in June 1989.

The article can be found here. (http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0103/p06s01-woap.html)

Jan 4, 2006, 22:01
It is sad to see that China is taking away the little freedom they have given to the press the last couple of years. The right to say what you mean, think and feel is one of the things that is important in a society!

Jan 26, 2006, 03:49
Backlash as Google shores up great firewall of China

Wednesday January 25, 2006
Copyright The Guardian

Google, the worldfs biggest search engine, will team up with the worldfs biggest censor, China, today with a service that it hopes will make it more attractive to the countryfs 110 million online users.

After holding out longer than any other major internet company, Google will effectively become another brick in the great firewall of China when it starts filtering out information that it believes the government will not approve of.

Despite a year of soul-searching, the American company will join Microsoft and Yahoo! in helping the communist government block access to websites containing politically sensitive content, such as references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and criticism of the politburo.

Executives have grudgingly accepted that this is the ethical price they have to pay to base servers in mainland China, which will improve the speed - and attractiveness - of their service in a country where they face strong competition from the leading mandarin search engine, Baidu.

But Google faces a backlash from free speech advocates, internet activists and politicians, some of whom are already asking how the companyfs policy in China accords with its mission statement: to make all possible information available to everyone who has a computer or mobile phone.

The new interface - google.cn - started at midnight last night and will be slowly phased in over the coming months. Although users will have the option of continuing to search via the original US-based google.com website, it is expected that the vast majority of Chinese search enquiries will go through mainland-based servers.

This will require the company to abide by the rules of the worldfs most restricted internet environment. China is thought to have 30,000 online police monitoring blogs, chatrooms and news portals. The propaganda department is thought to employ even more people, a small but increasing number of whom are paid to anonymously post pro-government comments online. Sophisticated filters have been developed to block or limit access to gunhealthy informationh, which includes human rights websites, such as Amnesty, foreign news outlets, such as the BBC, as well as pornography. Of the 64 internet dissidents in prison worldwide, 54 are from China.

Google has remained outside this system until now. But its search results are still filtered and delayed by the giant banks of government servers, known as the great firewall of China. Type gFalun Gongh in the search engine from a Beijing computer and the only results that can be accessed are official condemnations.

Now, however, Google will actively assist the government to limit content. There are technical precedents. In Germany, Google follows government orders by restricting references to sites that deny the Holocaust. In France, it obeys local rules prohibiting sites that stir up racial hatred. And in the US, it assists the authoritiesf crackdown on copyright infringements.

The scale of censorship in China is likely to dwarf anything the company has done before. According to one internet media insider, the main taboos are the three Ts: Tibet, Taiwan and the Tiananmen massacre, and the two Cs: cults such as Falun Gong and criticism of the Communist party. But this list is frequently updated.

In a statement, Google said it had little choice: gTo date, our search service has been offered exclusively from outside China, resulting in latency and access issues that have been unsatisfying to our Chinese users and, therefore, unacceptable to Google. With google.cn, Chinese users will ultimately receive a search service that is fast, always accessible, and helps them find information both in China and from around the world.h

It acknowledged that this ran contrary to its corporate ethics, but said a greater good was served by providing information in China. gIn order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy. While removing search results is inconsistent with Googlefs mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.h

The rest of the article can be read here (http://www.howardwfrench.com/archives/2006/01/25/backlash_as_google_shores_up_great_firewall_of_chi na/)

Jan 26, 2006, 03:58
Leading Publication Shut Down In China
Party's Move Is Part Of Wider Crackdown

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 25, 2006; Page A15

BEIJING, Jan. 24 -- China's ruling Communist Party on Tuesday suspended one of the premier publications in Chinese journalism, escalating a campaign to rein in the state media, part of the government's toughest crackdown on freedom of expression here in more than a decade.

The decision to shut down Freezing Point, a four-page weekly feature section of the state-run China Youth Daily that often tested the censors and challenged the party line, came less than a month after the authorities replaced the top editors of another daring newspaper, the Beijing News.

The China Youth Daily is the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League, a power base for President Hu Jintao. Because any move to punish it would almost certainly require his approval, the decision to close Freezing Point was seen as further evidence of Hu's personal support for a tightening of controls on the media that began two years ago, about a year after Hu took office.

Party officials summoned the senior editors of the China Youth Daily and ordered Freezing Point closed a day after distributing a five-page document that accused the section of "viciously attacking the socialist system" and condemned a recent article in it that criticized the history textbooks used in Chinese middle schools.

Propaganda authorities issued an order barring all media from reporting the suspension, all reporters from participating in any news conference about it and all Web sites from carrying any discussion about it, journalists said.

The chief editor of Freezing Point, Li Datong, confirmed the suspension in a message on his blog before censors deleted the page. "My colleagues and I just finished the full-page proof of tomorrow's Freezing Point, but it looks like it can't come out," he wrote. "Freezing Point tenaciously survived for 11 years, and it has finally died."

Reached by telephone, Li said that it was inconvenient to discuss what happened in detail but that he planned to write an essay to fight the decision. He said propaganda officials issued a notice criticizing him and the newspaper's editor in chief by name and ordering the section closed until it is "rectified and fully recognizes and corrects its mistakes."

Li, a party member and veteran journalist, stunned the propaganda authorities last summer with a lengthy letter attacking a plan to award bonuses to reporters at the newspaper who had won praise from government officials while deducting pay from reporters whose articles were criticized by officials. After the letter was leaked, the newspaper scrapped the bonus plan.

Though some publications ordered to undergo "rectification" by the party resume operations within weeks, others never publish again. Li said he planned to meet with his colleagues before deciding how to proceed, but he indicated that he did not believe Freezing Point had erred in publishing the article about the history textbooks.

The piece, written by Yuan Weishi, a reform-minded scholar at Zhongshan University in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, criticized Chinese textbooks for teaching an incomplete history of China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing, that fosters blind nationalism and closed-minded anti-foreign sentiment.

For example, he challenged the textbooks for portraying the 1900 Boxer Rebellion as a "magnificent feat of patriotism" without describing the violence committed by the rebels or their extreme anti-foreign views. He also criticized the books for blaming the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s entirely on foreign nations, without mentioning the Qing government's record of violating treaties by refusing foreign merchants access to Chinese cities.

The piece was the latest in a long series of articles in Freezing Point that carefully pushed the limits of permissible journalism in China. In November, the section published an essay describing the "White Terror" of authoritarian rule in Taiwan during the 1950s and democratic Taiwan's efforts to cope with that history of political repression. The contrast with events in mainland China was obvious but unstated.

The article is here. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/24/AR2006012401003.html)

Jan 26, 2006, 11:57
Backlash as Google shores up great firewall of China
Well, that's what you get when doing business in a dictatorship. But I think, Chinese can still tunnel their way out to use other versions of Google or other search engines.

Feb 16, 2006, 10:40
It seems the Chinese censors have to face some resistance recently. From the NYT:

"Beijing Censors Taken to Task in Party Circles (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/15/international/asia/15china.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&th&emc=th)

A dozen former Communist Party officials and senior scholars, including a onetime secretary to Mao, a party propaganda chief and the retired bosses of some of the country's most powerful newspapers, have denounced the recent closing of a prominent news journal, helping to fuel a growing backlash against censorship.

A public letter issued by the prominent figures, dated Feb. 2 but circulated to journalists in Beijing on Tuesday, appeared to add momentum to a campaign by a few outspoken editors against micromanagement, personnel shuffles and an ever-expanding blacklist of banned topics imposed on China's newspapers, magazines, television stations and Web sites by the party's secretive Propaganda Department.

The letter criticized the department's order on Jan. 24 to shut down Freezing Point, a popular journal of news and opinion, as an example of "malignant management" and an "abuse of power" that violates China's constitutional guarantee of free speech.
The resistance against censorship could signal a decisive shift in China's news media controls, already under assault from the proliferation of e-mail, text messaging, Web sites, blogs and other new forums for news and opinion that the authorities have struggled to bring under their supervision.

Even most of the major party-run national publications in China, including China Youth Daily, no longer receive government subsidies and must depend mainly on income from circulation and advertising to survive.

That means providing more news or features that people want to pay for, including exclusive stories and provocative views that go well beyond the propaganda fare carried by the New China News Agency or People's Daily. Few serious publications survive for long without subsidies if they do not have popular content, editors say.

"Every serious publication in China faces tough choices," said Mr. Li of Freezing Point. "You can publish stories people want to read and risk offending the censors. Or you can publish only stories that the party wants published and risk going out of business." "

Feb 17, 2006, 12:30
China allows newspaper to re-open (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4720800.stm)
"China has decided to allow the re-opening of an investigative newspaper shut down last month, its editor has said.

The Bingdian (Freezing Point) will hit news stands on 1 March, Li Datong said.

But he said Communist Party officials in charge of the weekly would not allow him and his deputy to work there.


He said he was also told that he and his deputy editor Lu Yuegang no longer had their jobs there, but were being transferred to the paper's news research office.

"This is a ridiculous decision!" Mr Li was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

"The soul of Bingdian has been extinguished. Only a shell is left. If the staff decided to protest, no-one will do the job. It will be an empty paper on 1 March," he said.

Bingdian would also have to run an article criticising a previously published essay by a Chinese historian that formally led to the closure of the paper, Mr Li said.

Oh, well... China, how confusing (& confused?) you are.

Mar 7, 2006, 19:13
A "constitutional right" to free speech in a "communist" country is probably not worth the paper its written on. :souka:

Nice to see some chinese are standing up to this but, time will tell if they dissappear in the night or not.