Press Freedom in China Bulletin: MAY

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent onJune8, 2016.

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In this bulletin:

1) ‘Fake reports’ see media outlets punished  

2) Harbin journalist harassed by police officer

3) Police intervene in journalist interviews at earthquake anniversary site

4) Journalists barred from reporting at earthquake anniversary site

5) Message about the ‘Panama Papers’ see citizen punished

6) President Xi ‘guarantees’ cyber security

7) Websites forced offline for hosting ‘negative content’

8) Ming Pao editor dismissal strongly criticised

9) New ‘Companies Registry’ regulation impedes press freedom

10) Foreign media still has limited access to Tibet

 

1)    ‘Fake reports’ see media outlets punished

On April 22, the Central Propaganda Department and eight other government departments and bureaus reports that 15 media outlets were to be punished for publishing ‘fake and incorrect reports’. Among the media outlets were Caijing magazine, The Papers, Jinan Times and West China City newspapers. The ‘fake and incorrect reports’ were published between September 14, 2015 and February 14, 2016. One Caijing magazine reporter had his accreditation cancelled and his named add to a media ‘misbehaviour list’ for the reports. Other journalists were issued with warnings or fines for the reports. The government departments did not elaborate what proved the reports were ‘fake’ or ‘incorrect’.

2) Harbin journalist harassed by police officer

Cao Ying, a journalist with Harbin Television was pushed to the floor and had her phone confiscated by the head of the Harbin Inland Port Police, Li Changhong on April 14. According to the reports, Cao received a complaint about a delivery cost. She then went to the police station with three complainants on 14 April 2016.

When they arrived, Li banned any filming or recording. After the negotiation, Li allowed Cao and the complainants into a room to discuss the case with him. When they were in the room, the other TV crew heard a cry for help. When they tried to enter, they were barred by two police officers, but they saw Cao had pressed down on the floor and Li was standing next to her. Li took away Cao’s mobile phones and locked the door.

Reports of the case received widespread criticism online. According to Xinhua, the local police bureau immediately removed Li after the investigation. The bureau said it was investigating the reports. Xinhua said, the act was uncivilized and an infringement of her rights. However the bureau said police did not attack the journalist yet could not explain how Cao was lying on the floor.

3) Journalists barred from reporting at earthquake anniversary site

According to reports, two Asahi journalists from Japan were blocked by local police and government officials as they tried to interview Sichuan citizens on the anniversary of the deadly 2008 earthquake on April 27.

Radio Free Asia reported that when police arrived they demanded the journalists delete the footage from the interviews. They also reported that several other journalists were blocked by police, prior to the incident with Asahi journalists. They said that all those blocked were either from Japan or Hong Kong.

The police used the ‘illegal assembly’ legislation to intervene in the journalists’ activities.

4) Citizen journalist sentenced to more than four years imprisonment.

Wang Jing, a citizen journalist with 64 Tianwang was sentenced to four years and 10 months imprisonment for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ on April 20.

Wang’s sentence relates to a series of article she wrote related to protests and abuses of police power, harassing protesters.

The court said that the articles caused ‘serious disruptions of online order’ and that the articles included ‘large amounts of information that is unconfirmed and defaming the work of government agencies’.

According to Committee to Protect Journalists, Wang has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and her health is deteriorating.

5) Message about the ‘Panama Papers’ sees citizen punished

On 19 April, Chen Dezheng, citizen of Wenzhou, was sentenced to eight days administrative detention for posting a series of online messages and a paper about the ‘Panama Papers’. According to a Boxun report, the paper included a sentence stating that the ‘Panama Papers is a good document’.

In a separate incident, human rights lawyer Ge Yongxi was interrogated by police for at least 20 hours with officers claiming he had made some comments about the ‘Panama Papers’.

In April, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the Panama Papers which disclosed more than ten current and former top China Government officials had opened an offshore companies intended to avoid of taxes. In the named officials, one of them is brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping. 

6) President Xi ‘guarantees’ online security

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended a meeting on cyber security on April 19, during which he called for enhancing the system to protect internet information engaged public opinions. In his speech, President Xi stressed the "correct outlook on cybersecurity" andurged authorities to establish unified and effective mechanisms to report risks and share information. He said internet defence capabilities should be enhanced and the roles of governments and market forces should be clearly defined. He also said no country will allow cyberspace to be used to go against the regime, incite religious extremism, national separatism and violence, or to be filled with pornography and hate. On the other hand, he also called for officials should use greater tolerance and patience to Internet users. He asked officials need to draw sincere suggestions and feedback from the Internet, help clarify public misconception or their fuzzy ideas about certain matters, dissolve public grudges and grievances, and correct their wrong perceptions.

7) Websites forced offline for hosting ‘negative content’

On 14 April,Xinhua reported that 25 Chinese live broadcasting platforms, including popular sites, douyu.com and yy.com, had been blacklisted for alleging hosting violent or obscene content. On 27 April,Xinhua then reported that 1046 illegal websites had been forced offline in the first quarter of 2016 by the orders of Cyberspace Administration of China, China’s internet watchdog. Xinhua said that the websites were disseminating pornographic content or information that could jeopardise national security. The report said that 85 websites had received warnings and 8,008 microblog accounts were shut down during the same period of time. Among those cases, the watchdog said 89 cases were transferred to legal department. One of the cases regarding Ronganwang.com, was suspended for 15 daysby the cyber watchdog in Guangxi on allegations of spreading information about violent and terrorist activities.Other websites were alleged of publishing information about illegal acts, including blackmail, telecom fraud, illegal fundraising and exam cheating.

8) Ming Pao editor dismissal strongly criticised

On April 20, Keung Kwok-Yuen, the reputable executive chief editor of Ming Pao, had his employment terminated with immediate effect. Keung had worked at Ming Pao for over a decade. Shortly after the dismissal, Chong Tien Siong, the chief editor said that the decision was based on the declining economic environment of the media industry. Chong said the company was looking to reduce costs through redundancies and Keung was one of the selected staff.

However, the decision has received widespread criticism. The Ming Pao Staff Association said that it felt “extremely angered and dissatisfied” by the decision and that the termination was ‘rough’. The Staff Association staged a protest, demand Chong better explain the decision. A decision was made by the Association that they will write to the Ming Pao Board in coming days, calling on them to withdraw the decision. 

9) New ‘Companies Registry’ regulation impedes press freedom

According to Ming Pao the Companies Registry of Hong Kong changed the requirement for all companies if they want to make a company search from the online service. Under the new regulations, companies must select one of six options, outlining the reason for the user to search the information regarding the company. Without making the selection, users cannot continue with the search, however none of the six options relating to media reporting. To Kan-Sun, a lawyer and pro-democracy legislator, questioned the changes and said that such changes could further limit news reporting.

The Companies Registry administers and enforces most parts of the Companies Ordinance. The Ordinance provides a modernised legal framework for the incorporation and operation of companies in Hong Kong and reinforces Hong Kong’s position as an international financial and commercial center.

The company search function is widely used by reporters during investigative reporting. More recently, the search function was used to assist the research and investigation into the ‘Panama Papers’. In 2012, the Companies Registry of Hong Kong tried to amend laws in order to forbid the public from collecting data about the management of companies. The proposed amendments received widespread criticism and the government had to withdraw the draft amendments.

10) Foreign media still has limited access to Tibet

According to the latest survey of Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC), three-quarters of foreign press who applied for access to the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2015, were rejected. The report found that China allowed foreign journalists to visit Tibet only on government-approved trips, employs an opaque process for selecting those who can join these trips, and restricts reporters' freedom of movement while they were there.The survey was sent in January 2016 to 177 members of the Beijing-based club and 351 non-members.

IFJ Asia-Pacific       
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