Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin: February 2015

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

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.

Traditional Chinese version available here.

Simplified Chinese version available here. 

In this bulletin:

1)    IFJ releases <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> Press Freedom Report on January 26

2)    Online freedom is further restrained

3)    Email service Outlook attacked

4)    Three VPN providers blocked in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>

5)    Three freedom Bills pending submission at the National Congress in March 

6)    “National Security” an excuse to ban everything

7)    Authority to step up anti-graft in media industry

8)    ACJA hearing procedure flawed

9)    Mainland media don’t report Mongolian protest

10) <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> Daily ethics questioned  

11) Three Mainland journalists attacked by Shenzhen policemen 

12) Citizen journalist barred from holding wedding in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Nanjing</st1:place></st1:city>

13) Editor-in-chief of the Global Times Hu said Chinese and Indian media should cut down negative reports  

14) Apple Daily offices and owner’s house attacked

15) HK Ming Pao newspaper Editor-in-Chief suspected self-censored

16) <st1:place w:st="on">Hong Kong</st1:place> ATV faces 76 summons following late payments

1) IFJ releases <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> Press Freedom Report on January 26

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released the seventh annual China Press Freedom Report, CHINA'S MEDIA WAR: Censorship, Corruption & Controlon January 26, 2015. The report details the challenges to press freedom in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> including direct censorship, internet surveillance, abuse of legal processes and harassment and intimidation which all continued in 2014. The report found that online restrictions also steadily increased during 2014, a new trait of the media repression under Chinese President Xi Jinping. During the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong in the latter part of the year, the IFJ noted at least 39 incidents of  journalists being harassed, assaulted, detained or maliciously accused by <st1:place w:st="on">Hong Kong</st1:place> police and anti-Occupy Movement protesters. Three journalists from Mainland <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> and <st1:place w:st="on">Hong Kong</st1:place> wrote contributions for the report revealing the restrictive orders and corruption of media industry. The <st1:place w:st="on">Hong Kong</st1:place> report illustrated a environment where ‘invisible black hands’ manipulated the media and outside influence on several events during the Occupy Movement.

The report is available online in simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese

2) Online freedom is further restrained

On 4 February, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) issued a 10-clause regulation, stipulating that all online users must use their real names to register. In addition, the CAC signed an agreement with service providers that no information should violate the constitution, subvert state power or damage the country’s reputation, lest they  be subject to punishment by  relevant laws.

The regulation also allows service providers to delete and suspend users accounts when the content violates the regulations. The regulation becomes effective on 1 March 2015.

On 18 January, Xinhua reported further press freedom restraints in the country when a number of Chinese authorities took part in the “anti-pornography campaign”, in which 2200 websites were forced to shut down and an additional 300 video channels were forced offline. On social platforms such as WeChat, at least 20million messages were deleted. Online businesses and media also voluntarily deleted more than one billion “harmful” messages. However the authorities did not provide statements on why this happened. A week later Communication University of China reported that they only recorded 51 cases of Online Accusation which was only one fourth of the total record in 2013.

3) Email service Outlook attacked

On January 17, the Greatfire.org, reported that Microsoft’s email system, Outlook, was subjected to a “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) attack, whereby an attacker can both monitor and alter or inject messages into a communication channel. The attack was confirmed on 19 January and lasted for about a day. Greatfire.org reported MITM attacks in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> also happened to Google, Yahoo and Apple. The Cyberspace Administration of China and its Director, Lu Wei, were suspected of orchestrating the attack or willingly allowing the attack to happen. The Cyberspace Administration of China rebuked the allegation on 22 January. Spokesman Jiang Jun said it was "unsupported speculation, a pure slanderous act by overseas anti-China forces". At the same time, he described Greatfire.org as being run by “foreign anti-China organizations”. However no evidence to prove the claim was provided. Since December 26, 2014, Google’s mail service Gmail has been partially blocked and gmail users are still unable to easily open their accounts in China.  

4) Three VPN providers blocked in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>

<st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>’s Great Fire Wall has a notorious reputation online. As a result, Chinese citizens have taken to using a variety of different methods including installing Virtual Private Network (VPN) to circumvent the firewall. On January 25, three VPN providers, Astrill, StrongVPN and Golden Frog, reported that <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>’s Great Fire Wall enhanced their systems to further block the use their services. The same day, the State Council Information Office issued an order to all online media that they must not quote from reports about '<st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> starting to block foreign VPN services'.

On January 27, Wen Ku, a director with <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>'s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said: "As the Internet develops, and new circumstances arise, we will take new regulatory measures to keep up." He refused to directly answer questions about the blocking of VPN services. <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> has recorded 642 million Internet users.

5) Three freedom Bills pending submission at the National Congress in March 

The new National Security Law Bill, the Counter-Terrorism Law Bill and the Regulation of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations in China Bill will be considered by the Standing Committee of National Congress in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> in March 2015. The IFJ is concerned the three bills will extend the control of Chinese authorities over basic human rights under the guise of national security protection. The draft counterterrorism law offers authorities the power to monitor the internet and undertake intrusive surveillance when there is a suspicion of terrorism. It also calls on media outlets to disseminate anti-terrorism information, while internet service providers are required to stop and report all terrorism related information or face punishment. However, the definition of ‘anti-terrorism’ remains vague. Section 104 refers to it as ‘any illegal act intended to induce social panic, influence state policy, incite subversion of state power, disseminating separatism’s ideology and manipulating racial hatred’.

The IFJ Asia Pacific office said: “China has a responsible to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1456 (2003) in drafting their national security laws, however the counter-terrorism law does not support international human rights in their definition of ‘anti-terrorism. If new laws are aimed at the ‘national sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity’ of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>, then the laws should also bear the constitutional responsibilities to uphold the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

6) “National Security” an excuse to ban everything

On January 29, Minister of the Education Bureau, Yuan Guiren urged education institutions to exert tighter control over the use of imported textbooks "that spread Western values". He went on to say that classrooms should be clear of anything that "defames the rule of the Communist Party, smear socialism or violate the constitution and laws". Teachers must stand firm and hold the political, legal and moral bottom line. Coincidentally, Dr. Sayed Gouda, an Egyptian poet and novelist in Hong Kong, last month received a notice from Beijing Normal University which said his contract as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University from March to July 2015 would be cancelled on January 27, 2015. Dr.Guoda believed the decision was made as he was soon to launch a new novel “Closed Gate” in which he discusses witnessing the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. He said: “I didn't expect their response to be like this, especially that I didn't clearly and directly criticise the Chinese government. I didn't imagine they would take it so sensitively.” Guoda said: “I believe it's their way of retaliation! I'll always speak up for democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights. “

7) Authority to step up anti-graft in media industry

On January 30, Xinhua reported that China’s top graft-buster, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) would step up inspections in the television and broadcasting sector this year, according to an official in charge of the anti-graft drive in the industry. Li Qiufang, head of the CCDI team at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said 49 officials from the sector were investigated for corruption last year. It was the highest number investigated in five years. In the state television media business and finance channels alone, eight executives, hosts and programme directors were under corruption investigation. Six Anhui Television officials had also been under investigation since October. No further details have been given. The CCDI said it will introduce an anti-graft code of conduct for media employees in the publishing, television and broadcasting industry later this year.

8) ACJA hearing procedure flawed

On January 29, All China Journalists Association (ACJA), which operates under the direction of the Communist Party of China, announced that three media outlets in China had produced “false reporting”. No further information was provided with the announcement, though it did name one of the journalists involved as Chai Huiqun of Southern Weekly. Chai immediately refuted the claims with a message on his Weibo account and questioned the integrity of the council. The IFJ understands he was later forced to delete the message.

Chai told the IFJ that the council and its hearing procedures were flawed. He said that a representative of ACJA asked him to provide information of news informers but did not invite any of the interviewees to the hearing, despite one volunteering to attend. Chai said that the most frustrating part he found was the differing relationships members of the council had with the Chinese Medical Doctor Association which lodged the initial complaint. Chai said: “I don’t know whether my press card would be cancelled by the authority due to this decision. I however believe that such allegations should be dealt with through a proper legal procedure instead of an ad hoc council under ACJA.”

9) Mainland media don’t report Mongolian protest 

About 150 Mongolian herders protested in separate locations in Southern (Inner) Mongolia and Beijing on January 20, 2015, yet no Mainland media reported the protests and herders were warned not to speak to the foreign media. At one of the protests, more than 70 Mongolian herders from western Southern (Inner) Mongolia’s Durbed Banner and Sunid Right Banner staged their ninth day of protest in front of the Chinese Central Government branches in Beijing. At the same time, at least two separate protests took place in central Southern Mongolia’s Shiliin-hot City and Saihantal Township of Sunid Right Banner. Herders demanded the protection of their legal rights and a return to the land from which they were forcibly displaced. The Chinese authorities are planning an expansion of a military base and enforcement of the so-called “ecological migration” policy. Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre said at least a dozen herders, activists and their family members were questioned, warned and threatened not to speak to foreign news media or to spread information about the protest via social media. On January 31 and February 1, at least five herders including Ms. Odonhuaar, Mr. Davshilt, Ms. Naranhuaar, Mr. Adiyaa and Ms. Alimaa were accused of organizing “illegal demonstrations” by police.

10) China Daily ethics questioned  

Peter Hessler, a columnist of The New Yorker, revealed China Daily used his byline to publish an article which said he had written about Egypt and China on January 20, 2015. Hessler said he accepted an interview by a journalist of China Daily in early January. Following the interview, China Daily published an article under his byline and included much of his responses about post-revolution Egypt. Hessler said he did not write the article and importantly that the article omitted a few crucial parts, namely that he believed it was harder to make a political change in China, where the system is more entrenched than in Egypt, and thus the flaws are also more entrenched. Hessler argued that the current anti-corruption campaign would be a failure, because China was not addressing its systemic flaws. However none of these opinions were published. He demanded China Daily remove the article from its website and publish a retraction. China Daily removed the article from the English website but Chinese translations remain online and have been picked up by various outlets. The paper refused to issue a retraction. The All China Journalists Association did not condemn the unethical behaviour.

11) Three Mainland journalists attacked by Shenzhen policemen 

At least three journalists of Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Newspaper were beaten up by several policemen in Shenzhen after they revealed policemen were using public funds for their meals and eating protected species. On January 21, journalists discovered 28 people attended a dinner party in which endangered “species” were eaten. When the journalists at the dinner were discovered by the attendees, they were slapped and assaulted by policemen and security guards at the restaurant. A camera was damaged and taken away. Fourteen police officers were suspended after the incident was revealed.

12) Citizen journalist barred from holding wedding in Nanjing

Sun Lin, a citizen journalist, got married on January 24 but it is understood that he was prevented from  continuing with his wedding celebrations due to pressure by Nanjing security officers. According to Radio Free Asia, Sun invited his online friends and activists across the nation to join his wedding in January in Nanjing. On the wedding day, it was reported that at least 50 people were detained either by Nanjing security officers or their local security officers. They were detained for several hours and a few of the female invitees were forced to undergo a body search in the police station. Although this was the not first instance of such an incident the wedding was eventually cancelled and moved to another venue.

13) Editor-in-chief of the Global TimesHu said Chinese and Indian media should cut down negative reports   

On January 30, academics and media professionals from China and India held a two-day dialogue in New Delhi on establishing new cooperative relations and discussions on how to achieve their economic potentials. The Second China-India Media Exchange Program, co-hosted by the Global Times Foundation and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in India, also included discussions on new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's China policy. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, sister media of state media People’s Daily, and Chairman of the Global Times Foundation said: “Negative reports in both countries should not be exaggerated." Hu also reportedly said Chinese and Indian media should cut down on emotional reports.

14) Apple Daily offices and owner’s house attacked

In the early hours of January 12, assailants attacked the Apple Daily building at Tsang Kwan O as well as owner Jimmy Lai’s house at Ho Man Tin, Kowloon with small hand-made bombs. Two burned car were also found alight. Noone was hurt in the attacks. A few hours later, two thieves stole a number of Apple Daily newspapers from a vendor and drove away at Hung Hom, Kowloon.

Ip Yat-Kin, the publisher of Apple Daily, said: “It is so horrific and flagrant. The assailant target Next Media Group. It may be related to the Group’s support of democracy. “

Sham Yee-Lan, chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), said the situation was worsening. She urged Hong Kong police to conduct an in-depth investigation into the series of threats against the media. The IFJ Asia Pacific Office condemned the threats on Apple Daily, an outspoken pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, and its owner Jimmy Lai’s house.

15) Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao Editor-in-Chief suspected self-censored

On February 2, 2015, Chong Tien-siong, the editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong-based Ming Pao newspaper, removed the front page exclusive headline story “June 4 Tiananmen Square Massacre” to page 2, without consulting the editorial board. Two days later he explained his actions by stating that the “Editor-in-Chief has power and duty to alter pagination”. The Ming Pao Staff Association (MPSA) was furious and unable to be convinced that Chong had not exercised self-censorship. In the MPSA statement, the paper’s editorial board decided unanimously on February 1 to run a story about the crackdown on the student’s protest. It was based on newly-released confidential documents from the national achieve in Canada. Chong did not vote against the unanimously decision. However, at around 23:00 the same day, Chong suddenly quashed the decision and replaced the story with another ”Alibaba planning a venture to help Hong Kong young entrepreneurs”. The following day, 100 staffs protested for an hour in front of the office building, however Chong did not give any explanation. On February 4, Chong issued a 80- word explanation. In the statement, he said he has power to make changes and he did not make any changes of the report “June 4” and still put it in a prominent area. He said “Based on the news logic, I decided to exercise the power to use “Alibaba” as the headline” but without further explanation.

16) Hong Kong ATV faces 76 summons following late payments

The insolvent free-to-air television station, Hong Kong Asia Television ATV, is set to be charged a total of 76 summonses after the company failed to pay salaries to 700 staff since July 2014. The trial is pending for February 23, 2015. At least 63 staff, including some staff from the news department, have had their contracts legally terminated due to ATV violating the Employment Ordinance. In addition, ATV also owes the Hong Kong Government more than a HK$10 million (US$ 1,289,790) from television license fees from 2014. The Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said ATV will be fined HK$200,000 (US$ 25,795) if they fail to pay within the time limit. 

If you have information on a press freedom violation or matters relating to media freedom and journalists’ rights in China, contact staff at IFJ Asia-Pacific so that action can be taken. To contribute to this bulletin, email ifjchina@ifj-asia.org.

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