IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin: July 2014

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent in mid-August 2014, and contributions are most welcome.

 
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1) Chinese media and intellectuals ordered to “strictly follow party political discipline”
2) Media regulator forbids publication of “critical reports”
3) Propaganda disseminated in Hong Kong and on Mainland
4) CCTV suddenly airs surveillance footage of “terrorist” attacks from past year
5) Beijing Police launch another campaign against online crime
6) National Audit Report discloses Xinhua and People’s Daily misused public money
7) Three journalists released; one still detained and deprived of legal rights
8) China’s new-media user numbers hit new highs
9) Hong Kong police block and harass journalists during street protests
10) Massive cyber-attack targets pro-democracy Hong Kong news group
11) Hundreds of journalists owed wages and severance pay
12) Ming Pao senior manager violates editorial independence
13) Taipei police threaten to arrest journalist
14) Macau University suppresses press freedom and deprives scholars of right to expression
15) Macau’s public broadcaster accused of self-censorship during Tiananmen anniversary
16) Macau Health Department staff member poses as journalist

 
 
1) Chinese media and intellectuals ordered to “strictly follow party political discipline”
 
On June 9, the state-owned news agency Xinhua reported that the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party (CCDI) had reminded a party group in Xinhua to uphold “Correct guidance of public opinion” and to “Strictly follow party political discipline”. The report said the Central Inspection Team (CIT) under CCDI found some journalists were losing their sense of political discipline, so Xinhua should strengthen it by organising training courses and conferences. The CIT conducted an investigation within Xinhua from October 2013 to January 2014 but publication of its report was delayed until June 2014. Around the same time, the CIT in the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS), an official think tank, also criticized academics for losing political discipline, according to Global Times, an English-language subsidiary of The People’s Daily. The report said CASS faces four major ideological problems, among them: acceptance of the penetration of offshore forces and use of the internet to disseminate cross-border sophistry. No evidence for these claims was given. According to Radio Free Asia, Zhang Boshu, formerly a scholar with CASS, said CIT has controlled ideology within CASS for a long time. Zhang was not surprised by the CIT report and said CIT never has any evidence to back up its claims. Several online media outlets republished the Global Times report, but it was removed speedily from the sites, including the CASS’s official portal, without any reason being given.
 
2) Media regulator forbids publication of “critical reports”
 
China’s major media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), issued a notice on June 18 that forbids publication of “critical reports” and could create excuses for management to impose self-censorship. The notice specifies that journalists must not write “critical” articles without prior approval from their employers and bars journalists from doing work “outside their assigned area of coverage”. It also demands that media outlets forbid journalists to take bribes. Those who do take bribes will have their press accreditation cancelled. Although some Mainland journalism scholars and experienced Mainland journalists said the notice only targeted state-controlled media outlets, several independent journalists and citizen journalists were worried that their investigative reports could be affected.
 
3) Propaganda disseminated in Hong Kong and on Mainland
 
When Hong Kong media disclosed that Leung Chai-Yan, elder daughter of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying, had posted a cut wrist image on her Facebook page, a new pro-government online media outlet immediately posted a “happy family” image of Leung’s family. It was eventually disclosed that the image was a public relations stunt. On June 28, Hong Kong Economic Journal published an exclusive report on Leung’s daughter in which she admitted that she had cut her wrist after “going through something”. She emphasized that it had nothing to do with her father being the Chief Executive, but refused to disclose her reasons. However, she admitted she was manipulated by her father to pose for a happy family picture with him and her mother at Hyde Park. A scholar criticized the propaganda which involved Leung’s daughter but it then accused by Regina Tong Ching-yi, wife of Leung Chun-ying, that the scholar is spiteful and cold-blooded.   
 
A book containing important pronouncements by China’s President Xi Jinping was published by the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China. On June 23, state-owned news agency Xinhua reported that the Propaganda Department and the Organization Department of the Central Political Committee had ordered party organisations at all levels to organise study sessions. The book expounds the significance, connotations, principles, and practical requirements of Xi's remarks, and digests Xi's major strategic thinking and theoretical perspectives. Normally China will publish books of former leaderships but relatively rare to publish a book for the current one.  
 
4) CCTV suddenly airs surveillance footage of “terrorist” attacks from past year
 
China Central Television in mid-June aired 23 minutes of surveillance footage relating to a series of “terrorist” attacks allegedly committed by Uyghurs over the past year. The video covered the attacks in Turpan in June 2013, the Tiananmen Square jeep crash explosion in October 2013, the mass stabbings at Kunming railway station in March 2014 and an explosion involving cars at Urumqi market in May 2014. The video also featured online propaganda statements by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations Security Council. The State Internet Information Office said the materials put online by the ETIM were filmed in the past few years, but no evidence was given to prove the footage had not been altered. Reuter reported that the footage was provided to it by the State Council Information Office and commented that its release signalled China is “step[ping] up its propaganda campaign to counter [the] upsurge in violence”. On June 21, another attack occurred in Kashgar, during which police gunned down 13 people and three police officers suffered minor injuries, according to state-controlled local online media outlet Tianshan net. However no further information was released and there were no independent reports about the case. On June 26, Xinhua published an open letter denouncing terrorism that was written by more than 200 Uyghur writers, poets and translators in Xinjiang. It was the first letter of this kind written by a group of Uyghurs. The publication of such a document by a state media outlet is extremely rare.
 
5) Beijing Police launch another campaign against online crime
 
With the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum planning to hold its summit in Beijing, the police on June 26 announced another campaign against online crime. The campaign, entitled “Internet Security Comprehensive Special Action”, will conclude by the end of November. During this period, police will focus on monitoring online messages, including texts on cell phones, that they regard as “traditional crimes that endanger social order” such as disseminating information that endangers state security. The police did not define “illegal online messages”, “hazardous illegal messages” or “traditional crimes that endanger social order”. APEC recognizes that the free flow of information is essential. We urge APEC’s Board of Governors to demand that the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation look into this new campaign in order to defend the right to free speech in China.
 
6) National Audit Report discloses Xinhua and People’s Daily misused public money
 
The National Audit Report of China disclosed on June 27 that 38 Government bureaux, departments and institutions had misused public money. The state-owned media outlets Xinhua and People’s Daily and their subsidiaries were among the government bodies that violated the terms of their budgets. The violations involved buying properties without consent, taking overseas trips, organizing meetings and staying at five-star hotels. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) was also implicated in serious misuses of public funds. These involved overseas vacations and the use of fake invoices to obtain money. The National Audit Report was not covered by any Mainland media, including Xinhua and the People’s Daily. The misuse of public money has been a common problem in Mainland China, with the authorities demanding that all government bureaus, departments and institutions limit their spending.
 
7) Three journalists released; one still detained and deprived of legal rights
 
An outspoken independent Mainland journalist, Gao Yu, 70, has been deprived of her right to meet her defence lawyer. Gao was detained on April 24 and accused on May 8 of releasing “state secrets” to Hong Kong and German media outlets. According to state-owned news agency Xinhua, Gao released information to non-Mainland media outlets in August 2013. Xinhua did not specify the information involved, but it is widely believed to be document “Number 9”, which sets out the seven topics which the Central Government has forbidden people to talk about. Meanwhile, three journalists were released after long periods of detention. On June 7, Vivian Wu and Xin Jiang were released after almost a month in detention. Wu, a journalist now working as a senior consultant to non-governmental media training organization Internews, had been out of contact since May 13. Xin, a Chinese news assistant for Nikkei Inc, the Japan Economic Times News Agency, was charged on May 26 with “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” but the police did not produce any evidence to show Xin had violated any law. Chen Baocheng, a journalist for Caixin, was released after almost a year of detention. Chen was accused on August 10, 2013, by police in Pingdu, Shandong Province, of falsely imprisoning an unidentified person when he was fighting against illegal land evictions. Police released him without charge because no evidence against him was found. Gao Jin, a Chinese-Australian artist, was deported to Australia after 15 days in detention. Gao, formerly a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army, was detained on June 1 after he showed an art work related to the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 4, 1989.
 
8) China’s new-media user numbers hit new highs
 
The Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS) reported on June 25 that a survey showed China has 1.3 billion microblog account holders, as well as 600 million WeChat account holders in more than 200 counties and cities. The survey, reported by state-owned news agency Xinhua, said China is moving into a new media era, with 103 companies providing microblog services.
 
9) Hong Kong police block and harass journalists during street protests
 
On three consecutive Fridays, beginning on June 13, a group of protestors rallied outside the Legislative Council Complex against moves by the Finance Committee to change the rules and approve government funding for preliminary work on development plans in the New Territories. Many journalists, photographers and camera crews from Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Hong Kong Television Broadcasting (TVB) and Cable Television were injured during a scuffle after the protestors tried to storm the Complex. Police used pepper spray without warning, and took an RTHK journalist away when he filmed officers removing protestors. On June 27, several journalists, photographers and members of camera crews from Hong Kong Asia Television and Cable Television were pushed by police officers when they were surrounded by a large crowd of people. The media workers were trying to film protestors who were sitting on the street. When several officers stormed the group, pushing the media workers against a fence, a camera operator almost fell with a heavy camera. One officer said: “I’m warning you. Don’t obstruct police when we are exercising our duties.” The journalist later said: “I was surprised because all of us, including the policeman, were unable to move a bit but he harangued me. The officer warned me not to touch his colleague’s hand, which I did not do. Then I felt that my hand was being firmly held by a policeman.” A female journalist suffered a similar experience. When she was trying to tell a police officer not to touch her breast again, the officer said: “Don’t touch me, don’t obstruct me. We are exercising our duties.” The IFJ has received at least 10 complaints from journalists about the police’s attitude and rough crowd management techniques, and their failure to assist the media in carrying out their duties. The IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said: “It is dangerous that police accuse the media and even threaten to arrest media workers when they are unable to manage their behaviour during a crowd control action. It is abuse of police power and undermines people’s right of press freedom under the Basic Law, the constitution of Hong Kong.” The police need to be monitored by the media and the public to prevent them abusing their powers. Although journalists generally felt that the police attitude was improved at the rally on 1 July, police still used their hands to block cameras and asked journalists to leave the protesting areas.
 
10) Massive cyber-attack targets pro-democracy Hong Kong news group
 
A massive cyber-attack occurred in Hong Kong in the lead-up to a “referendum” on franchise options for the 2017 elections for the Chief Executive. Apple Daily, a pro-democracy Chinese language newspaper published by Next Media, suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack starting around 3.30am on Wednesday, June 18. Next Media reported that its system was inundated with 40 million inquiries per second, leaving it “paralysed” for more than 10 hours. All Next Media Group websites and cell phone apps in Hong Kong and Taiwan were shut down. Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai Chi-Ying blamed the Chinese central authorities for the attack, saying Beijing wanted to silence supporters of universal suffrage and public nomination of candidates in 2017. A website built to host the Hong Kong University Public Opinion Programme Poll, planned for June 20 to 22, suffered a similar DDoS attack a few days earlier. A Next Media senior executive told the IFJ: “We have never seen such a massive attack before. I haven’t received a report from my colleagues but you may guess the attack was similar to the HKU Poll.” The attacks did not stop there. On June 23, Apple Daily reported that its Taiwan system was inundated with more than two million inquiries per second. The report also said the paper found that a pass code for a “switch” had been changed by an unknown person. The attack made the connection speed to the site unstable. A Next Media Group senior executive who is responsible for the IT system told the IFJ: “We are still investigating the attack. We noticed that some of the attacks came from Russia, the United States and China, but we are not sure of their origins.” Hong Kong University discovered that two fake websites had been established by unknown people. Apple Daily reported that the websites were registered on the Mainland between June 22 and 23. The Chinese authorities demanded that all website operators on the Mainland delete “all information that could endanger Hong Kong right before the referendum started on June 20”.
 
11) Hundreds of journalists owed wages and severance pay

Hong Kong-based newspaper Oriental Daily reported on June 18 that more than 30 media personnel at Hong Kong Morning News arranged through the Hong Kong Labour Department to have a closed door discussion with senior management to ask for overdue wages and severance pay. However, the senior managers did not come to the meeting. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which is helping the media workers to fight for the late payments, said it had received 120 complaints involving more than HK$3 million. The workers demanded that senior management disclose the identity of the paper’s backer so that they could file a lawsuit directly. Meanwhile, nine senior managers including Peon Lei Lun-Han, 46, the sole registered Director and Vice-President of the company, issued a legal document on June 11 asking the company for late payments and severance pay. On March 19, Hong Kong Morning News entertainment editor Hills Lam Kin-Ming, 54, and former executive vice president, Peon Lei Lun-Han, were attacked by four masked men wielding iron pipes at Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Lei resigned on May 12. After the attack, it was reported that the person funding the newspaper project had been detained by Mainland authorities on allegations of fraud.
 
12) Ming Pao senior manager violates editorial independence
 
A senior manager of Ming Pao newspaper bypassed normal procedures for making changes and deleted key words from a headline about the Hong Kong democracy rally on July 1. According to a statement by the Ming Pao Union, the editorial director of Ming Pao, Lui Ka-Ming, did not follow regular procedures for getting approval from the executive editor-in-chief and the assistant to the executive editor-in-chief. Lui unilaterally stopped the printing process and replaced “Fighting for universal suffrage” with “Police clearance action”. The rally supported calls for genuine universal suffrage and public nomination of candidates in the 2017 elections for the Chief Executive and Legislative Council. The Ming Pao Union statement said: “We are deeply furious with Luis unusual action. We strongly condemn it because such a maneuver breaches the normal practice of the editorial department. An intangible interference has finally become tangible, which sets a dangerous precedent for the paper.” Lui said he had discussed his decision with the deputy editor-in-chief, but did not say whether the deputy editor-in-chief agreed to the change and why he had deviated from the normal procedure.
 
13) Taipei police threaten to arrest journalist
 
New Taipei City police in Taiwan abused their power by blocking and threatening a journalist trying to do his job. On June 26, Lin Yu-You, a journalist for New Talk online media, was blocked, threatened and manhandled by police when he was trying to report on the arrest of several demonstrators who were protesting against a visit by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office director, Zhang Zhijun, to Wulai Township. Lin said a police officer stopped him when he was trying to take photos. Lin cried out and showed his press accreditation card, but the officers ignored this, saying: “So what if you have a press card?” and “Who gave you a press card?” At one point, the officer accused Lin, saying: “You should not obstruct me from exercising my duty.” Another police officer threatened to arrest Lin on the accusation that his elbow hit him. The Taiwan Journalists Association strongly protested against the anti-democratic actions by which the police jeopardized press freedom, which is enshrined in Taiwan’s Constitution. This is the third recent case in which Taipei police have been abused their power and undermined press freedom. On the early morning of March 24, several students and citizens stormed into the Executive Council to protest against a controversial draft “trade in services agreement” between China and Taiwan. When police cleared the demonstrators, more than 50 protestors and journalists were injured. On April 28, several journalists and photographers, including those working for Apple Daily in Taiwan, were manhandled by Taipei City Police when they were trying to clear a demonstration against nuclear power outside the train station.
 
14) Macau University suppresses press freedom and deprives scholars of right to expression
 
Security guards at the University of Macau restricted press freedom when a journalist was photographing a silent protest by a student. Choi Chi-chio, the deputy publisher of Macau Concealers, an online media outlet, was dragged out of the university’s congregation hall on June 21 when he was taking a photo of a female graduate who was holding up a placard during the congregation ceremony. The placard said: “Support scholars to speak up. Please stop persecution of scholars.” Choi said he and a camera operator from a local television station were trying to film the graduate. A security guard blocked his path and pushed down his camera. Choi said: “Several security guards immediately pulled me from behind, but they did not interrupt the other cameraman. I neither disrupted the ceremony nor blocked anyone, but only took a photo. How could I interrupt anyone by merely taking photos?” Initially, some journalists were not allowed to return to the congregation hall when they reported on Choi’s condition outside the hall. His neck was bruised and his glasses were broken. Six Macau scholars were reportedly subject to disciplinary action for publicly criticizing the government or allegedly imposing their political beliefs on students. One of the scholars, Eric Sautede, a senior lecturer of Asian Politics at the University of Saint Joseph, was asked to leave when the contract is due and Bill Chou of University of Macau was suspended from his duties for 24 days without salary.
 
15) Macau’s public broadcaster accused of self-censorship during Tiananmen anniversary
 
Macau’s public broadcaster, Teledifusão de Macau S.A. (TDM), allegedly imposed self-censorship during the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 4, 1989, and tried to deprive journalists of their right to choose their on-screen clothing. On the eve of June 4, supervisors at TDM demanded that all journalists remain political neutral and wear “decent” clothing when they were presenting programmes. On June 4, Chan Ka-Chon and Io Hao-Kei wore black overcoats when hosting the program “Macau, Good Morning”. They were reportedly scolded by their supervisor immediately after the news bulletin. A Macau journalist said Chan and Io’s supervisor told them they would not be promoted or receive an increase in salary in the coming year because they wore black. It was also reported that the pair were immediately removed from their original positions and reassigned to jobs behind the scenes. The President of TDM, Manuel Goncalves Pires Junior, denied that TDM exercised self-censorship and, after the incident was widely reported, claimed to have already demanded that the board investigate the case.
 
16) Macau Health Department staff member poses as journalist
 
Macau media said the Health Department of Macau sent an employee to pose as a journalist at a press conference where a patient complained of medical negligence. Macau-based Cheng Pou newspaper reported on June 20 that the head of the Health Department’s press relations unit admitted the department had sent a public relations officer to the conference disguised as a reporter. It was reported that this was the third time the department deployed a PR officer to impersonate a journalist at a press conference regarding medical negligence. According to Cheng Pou, the PR officer took photos and recorded the press conference but did not disclose her true identity.
 
When pressed to explain the incident, the Director of the Health Department remained silent until the head of the press relations unit claimed that he himself was aware of the arrangement.