Press Freedom in China Bulletin: FEBRUARY

A journalist takes a video of a map of Beijing and Hebei province during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on October 22, 2017. President Xi Jinping consolidated his power at the congress, setting the stage for tighter controls on the media. AFP / Wang Zhao

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on March 8, 2018.

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In this bulletin:

1)       IFJ launches tenth China Press Freedom Report

2)       Gui Minhai missing, found in police detention again

3)       Journalists’ wife disappears in China

4)       Online company shut down for distributing foreign videos

5)       FCCC releases annual report about working conditions in China

6)       New regulation for new media set for March

7)       New campaign targets gossip blogs and online gaming

8)       Former propaganda Chief becomes the Chief of state-owned media in Mainland

9)       Hong Kong freedom status declines


1) IFJ launches tenth China Press Freedom Report

On February 2, the IFJ launched the tenth China Press Freedom Report entitled Ten-Year Edition: A Decade in Decline. The report has been the cornerstone of the IFJ’s Press Freedom in China program, which launched in 2008. In its 10th edition, the IFJ report reviews this bleak period for freedom of expression. From the optimism and hope for China leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where a more free and open media was promised by China’s leaders to the world, the IFJ reports that reality on the ground is harshly different, with a continuing and disturbing decline in media freedoms in both Mainland China and Hong Kong.

The IFJ recorded over 900 media violations between the years 2008 to 2017, more than 30% recorded in the Beijing Municipality alone. IFJ figures indicate there are 38 media workers currently known to be detained in China, including renowned democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo who died in custody.

The report is available in English, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese on the IFJ website here.

2) Gui Minhai missing, found in police detention again

In late January, the New York Times reported that Gui Minhai, the owner of Hong Kong-based Causeway Bay bookstore and Might Current Media, was taken off a train, just outside Beijing by ten plain clothed officers on January 20, 2018. The report said that Gui was travelling with Swedish Consular officials from Ningbo, where he has been staying since his release from jail in October 2017. He was reportedly travelling to Beijing for medical treatment.

Following the incident, the Chinese authorities refused to comment on Gui’s whereabouts. The Swedish government summoned the Chinese ambassador and continued to advocate for Gui. On February 6, the Chinese government confirmed that Gui had again been imprisoned.

Gui first disappeared in 2015 from his holiday home in Thailand. Months later he reappeared in China, confessing to a traffic accident in 2003 in a televised confession. He was jailed for 2 years, released in October 2017. Since his release, Chinese authorities have repeatedly claimed that Gui was free, however reports indicate that he has not been able to leave Ningbo or China.  

3) Journalists’ wife disappears in China

Chen Xiaoping, the chief editor of New York-based Mirror Media Group, revealed that his wife, Li Huaiping, was taken away by unidentified people on September 19, 2017. Chen was only alerted to his wife’s disappearance when she messaged him ‘in trouble’ just before she disappeared. Chen told the IFJ that his wife was summoned to meet five people, three of who were colleagues of hers at the Baiyun International Airport, where she worked. During the meeting, her colleagues questioned her marriage to Chen, but did not mention his interview series of Chinese dissident, Guo Wengui.

Following her message, Chen called his wife’s office, and said her colleagues seemed nervous, and wouldn’t tell him whether she had come to work.

Chen did not immediately disclose his wife’s disappearance, in the hope that she would be released. However, he has since received a video of his wife, during which she appears to read a script, stating she would cut off contact with Chen and criticised his activities in the US.

4) Online company shut down for distributing foreign videos

According to Xinhua, China’s National Office Against Pronographic and Illegal Publications issued a statement on January 24, reminding all internet companies to examine all online videos and delete any that contain sexual, violent or terrorist scenarios.

The statement came after two of Yinjun Trade Company’s offices in Guangzhou were forced to close after authorities said that the company was producing, adding subtitles and ‘distributing foreign videos’. According to reports, the videos contained inappropriate cartoon characters aimed at children.

On January 31, employees from the website UC Headlines were summoned to the Cyberspace Administration bureau in Guangdong after the website was found to contain several illegal messages. According to Southcn.come, the CAC accused the website of carrying vulgar and pornographic material, and was moving in the ‘wrong direction’. The employees immediately removed the content.

            5) FCCC releases annual report about working conditions in China

On January 31, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) released its annual report documenting working conditions for foreign correspondents in China. The report, which is based on a survey completed by members, noted that most members feel that the Chinese government has intensified its attempts to deny and restrict access for foreign journalists to industrial areas, Xinjiang and the North Korea border. The report also detailed the increasing challenges for journalists in obtaining visas and permits.

The FCCC Board said: “Anyone who values independent news from China - news about the nature of its government, the state of its economy and the lives of its people - should be deeply alarmed by the serious, mounting pressure applied to the journalists trying to supply it.”

Following the launch of the report, journalists asked the Foreign Ministry of Affairs spokesperson for a response during a press conference. The spokesperson asked the journalist how many agreed with the report to raise their hand, and nobody responded, except a Japanese journalist. The spokesperson said: “When the majority of foreign journalists and press can carry out their work and coverage smoothly in China, but you Sankei Shimbun alone has met problems, then you yourself need to do some self-reflection and self-examination.”

6) New regulation for new media set for March

In 2017, China’s online population grew to 772 million, 5.6% increase from 2016. However the Cyberspace Administration (CAC) has issued new regulations to be brought in, in March. The regulations impose responsibility on microblog operators and users, to take measures to address rumours and false information.

According to Section 1, the regulation is aimed at ensuring a healthy and orderly online development, to protect citizens and other organise legal interest, protect national security and public interest. The regulations demand service providers establish mechanisms to tackle rumours, and once a rumour is found, remove it and report it to the department. The regulation said those who fail to meet the new requirements will be punished, although the punishment was not detailed.

The CAC also reported that nearly 130,000 websites were shut down in 2017 for ‘endagering information.

            7) New campaign targets gossip blogs and online gaming

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced a new campaign targeting gossip microblogs and online gaming in February. The CAC said the new campaign is in cooperation with five other departments including the public security bureau and cultural department. Three gossip microblogs were also forced to shut down under the campaign. The CAC office in Guangdong also announced a new campaign aimed at suppressing online gaming, following the lead of the CAC. The Guangdong campaign any games that carry information that is endangering, vulgar and distract from direction, will be ordered to make immediate changes.       

            8) New CCTV Chief, former propaganda chief

Shen Haixiong, the former chief of the Propaganda Department in Guangdong was appointed to chief of China Central Television (CCTV) on February 2. Shen had worked as the deputy director of Xinhua, before he was promoted to the chief of the Propaganda Department. Media reports referred to Shen’s good relationship with President Xi Jinping, having previously worked together in Zhejiang and Shanghai.

            9) Hong Kong freedom status declines

On January 16, Freedom House published its annual Freedom of the World report, which showed that for the third year Hong Kong’s freedom has decline. In 2018 Hong Kong scored 59/100 down from 61/100 in 2017. The report classed Hong Kong’s press freedom status as partly free; noting that the Central Government of China’s increasing interference in Hong Kong is having an impact on freedoms.

IFJ Asia-Pacific

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