Press Freedom in China Bulletin: AUGUST

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In this bulletin:

1. New Government strategy uses media as a crackdown tool

2. Pro-government reporting continues   

3. Netizens under attack for online commentary  

4. Crackdown sees online media punished

5. Cyberspace Administration will enhance to control internet

6. Yanhuang Chunqiu editorial team replaced without notice

7. HK media workers jailed again

8. HK publisher threatened prior to book publication

9. Prominent HK columnist suddenly removed after he wrote “HK Independence”

 

1)    New Government strategy uses media as a crackdown tool

Between August 1 and 5, several Hong Kong and Taiwanese media outlets, have been granted exclusive access to court hearings and televised confessions of activists and human rights lawyers, in what has been described as a shift in government policy.

On August 1, the Oriental Daily and Phoenix Television, were granted an exclusive opportunity to broadcast the televised confess ion Wang Yu, a prominent human rights lawyer who was detained in July 2015 on allegations of subverting the state power. However, just one hour after the ‘exclusion’, The Paper, a Shanghai-based online media outlet, reported the same story, along with the ‘exclusive’ video footage.

 

Then, on August 2 to 5, five media outlets from Hong Kong and one from Taiwan were invited by Chinese police to attend the hearings of four prominent human rights lawyers and activists at the Intermediate People’s Court in Tianjin, in north-eastern China. The outlets that were invited to the hearing included, Oriental Daily, South China Morning Post, Sing Tao Daily, Phoenix Television and Want Daily. It is well-known that the management of these outlets have good working relationships with Mainland China authorities.

Previously, access to these types of official proceedings, were only granted to state-owned media outlets from the Mainland.

2)    Pro-government reporting continues

A) On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in Holland handed down its decision on the dispute between China and the Philippines over South China Sea. The PCA ruled in favour of the Philippines, unanimously ruling that China has "no historical rights" based on the so-called "nine-dash line" map. The PCA also ruled that China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea has also caused irreparable damage to the environment and asked the Chinese government to stop further activities in the area. Following the decision, a series of Mainland media reports criticised the decision and refused to accept the verdict. 

B) On August 2, the Electoral Returning Officer rejected six candidates who were planning to run for the Hong Kong Legislative Council in the September elections. The decision was based on a number of reasons, including the candidates opposition to the Basic law, which states that Hong Kong is part of China. Just prior and shortly following the decision being made, several government-supported media outlets in Hong Kong strongly criticised the candidates, particularly Edward Leung Tin Kei who is the spokesperson for the Hong Kong Indigenous Group

3)    Netizens under attack for online commentary

A) Guo Enping, a civil servant from Jiao Jiang, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, was sentenced to 10 days administrative detention after he posted an article online criticising the local government’s expenditure on the G20 Summit, which will be held on September 4 and 5. On 10 July, Guo used an alias to post an article Zhejiang, Shame on you on a QQ chat room. The article drew a lot of attention from netizens and the authority. Although Guo withdrew the article and apologized, he was punished by the local police on July 21, after police claimed he used the internet to provoke disorder. Guo was also fired from his communications officer position with the local government. 

B) Three netizens were punished after they revealed that a flood in Hebei on July 20, actually killed more than 200 people. The local government had initially claimed there were no casualties. Heavy rain swept across China in mid-July, which saw widespread flooding and dozens of causalities in Hebei. According to authorities in Xingtai city, the river banks burst, submerging at least 12 villages. However according to a report on July 23, by the South China Morning Post, only 225 were killed or reported missing across China, with more than one million people across 21 counties and districts affected and tens of thousands of homes damaged. The local government initially denied any casualties, then on July 19, the Xingtai government announced that the three netizens were detained for spreading ‘rumours on the internet’.

4)    Crackdown sees online media punished

A) According to Paper.cn, a Shanghai-based, online media outlet, the Cyberspace Administration of China, Shanghai office, accused several media outlets of violating section 16 of the Provision on Administration of Internet News Information Service on July 24. The media outlets included, Sina, Sohu, NetEase and Phoenix. Section 16 states that only approved online media outlets can produce original news coverage and reports. The office demanded fourt of the outlets shut down or ‘clean up programming’. The reports said that programs alleged to have violated Section 16 included two from Sina, three from Sohu, one from Phoenix and three from NetEase.

According to the New York Times, the Cyberspace Administration Office’s statement said that it was investigating eight internet companies and criticised each, saying that their ‘ideological thinking wasn’t good enough and that they have blindly chased economic gains’.

B) On July 1, Tencent received a report from the authorities, following a report was published with a typographical error, which excluded an important speech from Chinese President, Xi Jinping. Although Tencent admitted the error and rectified it, the Central Propaganda Department ignored the explanation and immediately sent in an investigating team to the offices. On July 21, Ming Pao Daily reported that the publisher and the editor-in-chief of Tencent, Wang Yongzhi was removed. Wang is a veteran journalist and had worked at several online media outlets, including state-owned Xinhua.Several commentators believe that the recent crackdown is a result of the Tencent typo. The Cyberspace Administration’s statement said that the Shanghai office was going to increase its management of all local online media, to ensure order of online services.

5)    Cyberspace Administration aims to improve internet control

The Cyberspace Administration released the National Internet Development Strategy Outline on July 27, which said that they authorities will aim to control opinions online over the next ten years. The outline was prepared by several government bodies including, the Cyberspace Administration, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China, the National Development and Report Commission and several others. The outline emphasised the use of laws and administrative powers to monitor the disseminating information across the country and enhancing the management of controls of online opinions. It also encouraged Chinese companies to cooperate with other countries, including the USA and European nations.

Zhuang Rongwen, the vice director of the Cyberspace Administration also encouraged Mainland companies to invest finances in internet companies in Hong Kong. Zhuang said: “Cooperation could enhance the development of the internet in Hong Kong.”

6) Yanhuang Chunqiu editorial board replaced without notice

An influential political magazine, Yanhuang Chunqiu, has come under control of the Chinese government, after the Chinese National Academy of Arts issued a notice saying that almost the entire top management staff of the editorial team would be replace on July 12. The noticed said that the staff would be replaced by staff from the Academy.

The notice received widespread criticism, as several of those from the editorial team, were overseas or in hospital, and had not being told prior to the announcement.

On July 14, Yanghuang Chunqiu issued a statement which said that the Academy had breached an agreement between the two parties. The agreement allows the magazine the rights to financial and editorial independence, as well as staff appointments. The Academy had unilaterally breached the agreement by the external appointment to the editorial department. The magazine filed a lawsuit against the Academy for breaching the agreement, but the court delayed and then rejected the case claiming it was an internal matter

7) HK media workers jailed again

On July 26, Wang Jianmin, a US-HK citizen and publisher of Mulitple Face and New-Way, two political magazines, was sentenced to five years and three months imprisonment for ‘illegally operating a business in the Mainland’, ‘corruption’ and ‘big-rigging crime’. On the same day, Guo Zhongxiao, the Hong Kong-based editor of Multiple Face and New-Way was sentenced to two years and three months on the some charges as Wang. Liu Haitao, a freelance writer, and Xi Zhongyun, Wang’s wife, were also indicted for operating an illegal business in the Mainland. Liu was sentenced to two years, but given three years’ probation, while Xi was sentenced to one year, but given two years’ probation.

Wang and Guo, both Mainlanders who had emigrated to Hong Kong and the US, were arrested at their houses in Shenzhen, in southern China on May 30, 2014. The prosecution claimed that the two publications have earned HKD 7 million (USD 902,513) between September 2012 and April 2014. Wang had allegedly delivered the two publications from Hong Kong to Shenzhen and then posted them to eight Mainlanders, earning around yuan 66,000 (USD 9,912) of total revenue.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association described the verdict as a blow to freedom of speech, publication and the press in Hong Kong.

8) HK publisher threatened prior to book publication  

Hong Kong lawyer Song Pou, claimed that his publisher, Mou Ji-Sam received a call on the 15th of July, demanding publication of Xi’s book on President Xi Jinping immediately stop. Song told the IFJ that Mou was deeply worried about his own safety because he had received threats were similar to those which Hong Kong publisher Lee Bo received prior to his disappearance in 2015.

Mou said that the caller new of the book due to a press release which was issued on July 13.

Following the call, Song persuaded Mou to continue with the book launch, however Mou gave three conditions. There was to be no additional information added to the book, no defamation and no accusations about the ‘One Country, Two System’ policy in Hong Kong. Before the book launch press conference, Mou was encouraged by a friend who had received a call from an acquaintance with Mainland police to not host the event.

9) Prominent HK columnist suspended over HK independence column

On July 29, Dr. Lian reported that he received a suspension notice from Alice Kwok Yim Ming, the editor-in-chief of the HKEJ. The suspension, which took effect on August 1 was claimed to be in response to a content revamp of the opinion page. However, this is not the first time that “restructuring of page content” has been used by the HKEJ editor as an excuse for suspension, following the Occupy Movement in 2014. Following the movement, veteran columnist, Edward Chin, was asked to stop writing after he openly supported the Occupy Movement. 

On July 31, Dr Lian wrote an open letter in which he admitted that the management had told him that his column fee would be cut by 60 percent due to financial difficulties but that the column would remain. Lian said he “didn’t mind and was willing to go through the good times and bad times with HKEJ”. 

 

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