IFJ Press Freedom in China Bulletin: January 2015

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on February 8, 2015.

To contribute news or information, email ifjchina@ifj-asia.org. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to www.ifj.org.

Please distribute this bulletin widely among colleagues in the media.

Read the simplified Chinese version here.

Read the traditional Chinese version here

In this bulletin:

1) Hong Kong holds vigil for #CharlieHebdo victims and condemns attack

2) IFJ annual China Press Freedom Report released this month

3) China continues restrain media reporting on deadly accidents

4) Hong Kong Asia Television prosecuted for delaying payments to staff

5) A dramatic drop in Gmail traffic in China 

6) FCCC received 12 press violations within three months 

7) Political prisoner Hada warned not to speak to press 

8) Macau Government barred entry to Hong Kong journalists and pro-democracy politicians

9) International media groups report on media freedom in 2014   

1) Hong Kong holds vigil for #CharlieHebdo victims and condemns attack

Following the attack on 10 journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, Hong Kong journalists, unions and citizens joined the globally condemnation of the attack and offered their condolences to their colleagues and their families in a vigil on January 9. The vigil which was held in Central Hong Kong was attended by citizens, cartoonists and seven media unions and associations including the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Ming Pao Staff Association, Next Media Trade Union, Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, Journalism Educators for Press Freedom and Independent Critics. Mr Patrick Mansier, the Political and Public Relations Consul from the French Consulate in Hong Kong, also attended the event and joined in standing in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong.

Read statements of support from across the Asia Pacific region here.

Read more here  and see photos here.

2) IFJ annual China Press Freedom Report released this month

The International Federation of Journalists will release their annual China Press Freedom Report this month and take a look back at press freedom and the challenges faced by journalists and the media in 2014. The report will be launched in <st1:place w:st="on">Hong Kong</st1:place> with an event. Keep updated by following the IFJ on Twitter and Facebook.

2) <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> continues restrain media to report even in deadly accidents

According to the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Open Government Information (Cchapter 2, article 9), all levels of government in China have a duty to report to the public when it involves the vital interests of citizens. However, the IFJ notes that such regulations have continually been put aside and officers rarely follow the regulation, even when numerous people have been killed. In addition to releasing minimal information, the disturbing pattern follows in how they are also controlling how the media publish information. This problem is already continuing into 2015.

a)    On New Year’s Eve 2014, a deadly stampede occurred in Shanghai which left 36 people dead and 49 people injured. Following the incident the Shanghai Propaganda Department issued an order to control all the information in particular online media. According to China Digital Times, the department prohibited all online news portals from using information from netizens at the scene, information from the social media including WeChat, as well as overseas and non-Mainland media outlets information. At the same time, no extreme horrific graphic images could be used. The directives also said the deadly stampede was forbidden from headline news of all online media. When reports were published, no articles were allowed to relate to issues such as anti-corruption, territorial discrimination and malicious attack against the Communist Party, government or the Socialist system. Although the order seemed to particularly refer to online media, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Shanghai</st1:city></st1:place>’s traditional media also followed through. After the incident, local government organised a press conference but only allowed local media and prohibited any non-Mainland media. A local journalist told the IFJ that newspapers in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Shanghai</st1:city></st1:place> focused on the report of President Xi’s New Year’s speech while the deadly stampede was played down. 

b)    In another incident, five fire fighters died while exercising their duties in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Harbin</st1:city></st1:place> on January 2. The fire fighters were killed when they attended a fire in an 11-story warehouse and residential complex. They died when an illegal part of the building collapsed. Local online and newspaper media focused on how the government responded in the aftermath but failed to answer how people were allowed to live in the illegal building for a number of years. Some local media even played down the case. A journalist believed the response of local media was “normal” because the Propaganda Department in each province takes the same approach as Shanghai Department, in their response to the stampede on New Year’s Eve 2015.             

3) Hong Kong Asia Television prosecuted for several times of delay payment to staffs 

The insolvent free-to-air television station, Hong Kong Asia Television ATV, was charged on December 31 by the Labour Department of Hong Kong for 34 summonses after the company failed to pay salaries to around 700 staff from July to September 2014. The Labour Department had warned that more legal action would be taken while ATV continued to delay the payments in November and December . ATV had actually been delaying payment to staff since July but news of this wasn’t released until in September 2014. The management was able to pay in October but delayed payments continued in November and December. According to Ip Ka-Po, executive director of ATV, around 50 staff legally rescinded their contract according to the Employment Ordinance of Hong Kong. At least seven of them came from the news department. Due to the late payment of wages, the number and length of news bulletins has already been reduced in order to maintain the minimum requirement of the free-to-air television licence. According to the Hong Kong Employment Ordinance, any employer who, without any reasonable excuse has willfully not paid staff later than seven days after the end of the expiry of the last day of the wage period, can be prosecuted. ATV has been involved in number of lawsuits including the dispute between shareholders of Wong Ching and Tsai Eng-meng, in a breach of television program service licences by the Communication Authority. The Executive Committee of Hong Kong will consider whether ATV should be granted a free-to-air television licence when it due at the end of 2015.

4) A dramatic drop of Gmail traffic in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> 

According to Google’s Transparency Report on December 26, 2014, there is a dramatic decline in data exchange between Gmail and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>. It said that gmail’s Internet traffic was almost completely blocked on December 26 onwards. A Singapore-based spokesman for Google reported the company had done various tests but found no disruptions from their end. On December 29, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said she had no knowledge regarding Google services being blocked during the press conference. She then added the government’s role is to provide an appropriate business environment for all investors. The traffic situation of the Gmail improved a little after the press conference though it has not yet resumed to a normal situation. It is widely believed the abnormal traffic situation was due to the instruction of the authorities.

5) FCCC received 12 press violations within three months 

According to the latest report of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), they received 12 cases of suppression of press freedom between August to October, 2014. The cases included detaining interviewees after interviews, arrests of television crews, refusing journalist’s entry to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:state w:st="on">Qinghai</st1:state></st1:place> and Xinjiang. One of the most striking incidents took place on October 23, when a correspondent was detained for 14 hours and restrained on an iron chair by Beijing police. After he request to leave, he was surrounded by several policemen and one of them fell down without knowing the reason. It is reported that the correspondent was detained by police when he went to the National Office for Petitions and Letters where petitioners gathered area in Yongding Qiao, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Beijing</st1:country-region>. During the interrogation, he was asked to take off all his clothes for investigation, demanded to delete photos from his smart phones and to undertake a drug test. Police accused him of “assault” of a policeman. However the Bureau Chief said there was no sign of any “assault” on the policeman who fell down when he was summoned to the office of Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 6 for a meeting. The correspondent was able to get his working visa but it was only valid for six months instead of normal one year duration. 

6) Political prisoner Hada warned not to speak to press 

Southern (Inner) Mongolian political prisoner Hada was allowed to meet with his wife Xinna and family members after he had been illegally detained for four years. According to Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), Hada was heavily guarded in an apartment on November 17, 2014 in suburban Hohhot. He had been under extrajudicial detention for four years after completely serving his 15-year jail term on December 10, 2010. Hada was allowed to meet his family and siblings and able to arrange a medical examination due to his poor health condition. Although the meeting was allowed,  he was warned not to accept any interviews from foreign media. Furthermore, Hada’s brother and sister were also warned not to accept any phone interviews. Hada’s wife said she was unable to contact to the outside world because the cable and wireless network connections were cut in Hada’s residence and surrounding areas. The SMHRIC said Hada would lodge a lawsuit against the authority of illegal detention and being tortured during his imprisonment. He was already diagnosed with over 10 different health problems which he said were caused by the inhumane treatment and conditions in jail.

7) Macau Government barred entry to Hong Kong journalists and pro-democracy politicians.

The Macau Government continues to use “pose a threat to internal security” as an excuse to deny entry to people trying to enter the territory, including Hong Kong journalists and pro-democracy politicians. Since December 12, at least five journalists of Next Media, including journalists working for the entertainment desk were barred from entering the territory when they were tried to report the 15th anniversary of the Handover of Macau on December 13, 2014. Some pro-democracy politicians of Hong Kong were also forbidden to enter for the same reason. On December 13, when the President of China, Xi Jinping, arrived in Macau journalists who arranged to wait for the flight were not allowed to bring umbrellas even thought it was raining. Additionally, media was not allowed to report Xi’s separate meetings with Fernando Chui Sai-On, Chief Executive of Macau and Leung Chun-Ying, Executive of Hong Kong. Instead, media had to wait for the footage which was recorded by the press officers of News Departments of both administrative governments. However, the footage released by the Hong Kong Government was only 42 seconds long whereas Macau Government released an eight-minute piece of footage, according to Apple Daily.

8) Jailed journalists in China jumps to 44 in 2014

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CP J) identified 220 journalists who were in jail around the world in 2014, an increase of nine from 2013. The tally marks the second-highest number of journalists in jail since CPJ began taking an annual census of imprisoned journalists in 1990, and highlights a resurgence of authoritarian governments in countries such as China, Ethiopia, Burma, and Egypt. According to the latest report, it said that 44 journalists were in Chinese jails a jump from 32 in 2013, and reflection of the pressure that President Xi Jinping has exerted on the media, lawyers, dissidents, and academics to toe the government line. In addition to jailing journalists, Beijing has issued restrictive new rules about what can be covered and denied visas to international journalists. Coverage of ethnic minority issues continues to be sensitive; almost half of those jailed are Tibetan or Uighur, including academic and blogger Ilham Tohti and seven students imprisoned for working on his website, Uighurbiz. Twenty-nine of the journalists behind bars in China were held on anti-state charges. Furthermore, the International Federation of Journalists announced its annual report on the number of media killings in 2014. The report listed 118 media workers lost their lives in 2014. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Philippines are continually listed at the top of the list. In Pakistan, 14 journalists were killed with the country’s culture of impunity worsening. While in Afghanistan, eight journalists lost their lives including two international correspondents after the country’s troubled presidential elections.        

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