IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin: November 2014

To IFJ Asia-Pacific affiliates and friends,

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

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.

For the simplified Chinese version click here.

For the traditional Chinese version click here.

In this bulletin:

1) Journalists treated roughly during Occupy Central Movement protests in Hong Kong

2) Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air television station suspected of self-censorship

3) Hackers support Movement with attack on Chinese Government computer systems

4) Hong Kong Police suspected of using law to limit freedom of expression online

5) BBC website blocked in Mainland after it airs Hong Kong police assault on protestor

6) Mainland Government orders censorship of all reports of “Dialogue”

7) News of death of prominent democracy activist Chen Ziming censored

8) Veteran Mainland journalist detained by police after criticizing former propaganda chief

9) Chinese assistant for German magazine Die Zeit detained

10) More than 100 Mainland citizens reportedly detained after supporting Movement

11) Books by outspoken authors banned in Mainland

12) Tencent Xian website punished by seven-day shut down

13) Non-Mainland programs to be censored in China

14) Online journalists now required to register under traditional system

15) President Xi says good journalists should “speak well Chinese story”

1) Journalists treated roughly during Occupy Central Movement protests in Hong Kong

Media workers and protesters experienced various types of harassment online and in the streets during the Occupy Central Movement, which has been ongoing since September 28. The Occupy movement is fighting for direct elections for all seats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in 2016 and direct nomination of candidates, plus universal suffrage, for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017. Media outlets also self-censored their coverage of the protests and a journalist was demoted. The IFJ’s affiliate, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), said it was told of 24 cases of harassment and violence, and the IFJ noted an even greater number of cases. Media outlets seen as “pro-democracy” were targeted, something that has happened rarely in Hong Kong since the 1980s when the fight for democracy in Hong Kong was beginning. Media workers supported their colleagues, and many media associations issued joint statements or protested after their members were attacked or felt the police had not fulfilled their responsibilities. Several media outlets boycotted some organizations working against the Occupy Movement after journalists were brutally attacked by the organizations’ supporters.

The central government of China watched the movement carefully. Articles critical of the movement were published on the Mainland, and quite a number of activists, artists, poets and journalists were detained because they either reported on the movement or showed their support for it.

The following cases were noted from October 8, 2014, onward.

a) The Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, gave an exclusive interview to a free-to-air television service, Hong Kong Television Broadcaster (TVB) on October 10, excluding dozens of local and international media organizations. The interview was broadcast on October 12. Four Hong Kong media associations, including IFJ affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), the RTHK Union, Next Media Union and the Ming Pao Staff Association, issued a joint statement to the Chief Executive deploring his decision. The statement noted that the members of the public in Hong Kong and other countries were deeply concerned about the Occupy Movement, as well as about Mr Leung’s personal scandals.

b)Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, suffered several days of harassment beginning on October 11. Unknown people used cars to block the entrance of the company’s building and prevent Apple Daily and other newspapers, including The New York Times, Hong Kong-based Metro Free Newspaper and Hong Kong Economic Journal, being delivered to retailers on time. At the same time, hundreds of protesters, who were widely suspected of being paid, assembled outside the building. They used vulgar language and physically harassed journalists when they were trying to report. The protesters ignored an injunction issued by the Hong Kong High Court ordering them to end the disruption and continued to assemble outside the office. Apple Daily said it suffered a cyber-attack on October 13 that “paralysed” the whole computer system, including smart phone apps. Senior management and administrative staff received nuisance phone calls from as far away as Egypt and Thailand. In the worst case, the nuisance calls tallied more than 250 in a single day. In the early hours of October 22, several masked thugs armed with long knives splashed dark fluid on about 10,000 copies of Apple Daily when they were being prepared for delivery to retailers.

c) Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers used pepper spray and batons to evict democracy protesters from Lung Wo Road, Admiralty district, in the early hours of October 15. During the scuffles, many journalists were treated roughly by police. Daniel Cheung, a journalist for Social Record Channel, an online portal established by Social Record Association in 2010, was kicked and punched by several officers; even though he called out that he was a journalist. Cheung’s lip was injured and his neck and back were bruised.

d) Paula Bronstein, a renowned photographer with Getty Images, was arrested and detained by Hong Kong police for several hours on October 17 because she was standing on the top of a private car to take photos of a crowd of protesters at Mong Kok. She paid HK$300 (US$50) in bail. She explained that she was pressed against the car by the crowd and had to climb on the top of it to protect herself. Police arrested Bronstein after receiving a complaint from the owner of the car.

e) Chan King-Cheung, the Vice-Publisher and the CEO of online portal Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ), resigned on October 17, saying: “We do not share the same ideology.” It is widely believed he resigned because of the HKEJ’s growing self-censorship. Alice Kwok, the Editor-in-Chief of the HKEJ, denied the allegation.

f) Ronson Chan, a journalist with Oriental Daily, was pushed, harassed and attacked by police in the early hours of October 18. Police sprayed pepper spray directly into Chan’s eyes after he showed his press card and demanded they explain why they pushed his female colleague onto the ground using batons.

g) Cheung Ka-Man and Hon Yiu-ting, both journalists for Apple Daily, were verbally threatened, pushed and grabbed from behind by police officers at Mong Kok. Hon was grabbed around the neck when he was taking photos of a protester who was pushed onto the ground by police. Cheung, who was wearing a press jacket, demanded the police sergeant’s identification details when he was pushing her. The sergeant demanded her details in return.

h)South China Morning Post was accused of self-censorship on October 19 after it suddenly increased the cost of publishing a political advertisement. A group of 800 former and present students of Diocesan Boys and Diocesan Girls Schools tried to place an advertisement demanding Hong Kong police investigate seven policemen who were suspected of beating up an Occupy Movement protester. The group said that the cost of the ad suddenly increased twice after South China Morning Post’s marketing section read through its content.

i) An Apple Daily journalist with the surname Kwan was punched on the left side of his face by a masked thug on October 24. The thug tried to abscond after he attacked an Occupy Movement protester at Mong Kok, in Kowloon.

j) Wong Wing-yin of Radio Television of Hong Kong was queried by anti-Occupy Movement protesters about her identity when she was taking photos on October 25. Although Wong showed her press card, protesters ignored this and snatched her press card and backpack. When she fell on the ground, several people repeatedly kicked her leg and body. She was eventually escorted to safety by members of the foreign press.

k) An Al Jazeera TV crew, consisting of Lynn Lee and James Leong, was blocked and verbally assaulted by anti-Occupy Movement protesters at Tsim Sha Tsui on October 25.

l)Ming Pao Daily complained that unknown people tried to impersonate their correspondents and sent a request for an interview to members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, with no guarantees that the file attached to the email was free of viruses.

2) Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air television station suspected of self-censorship

Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air television station, Broadcasting Television of Hong Kong (TVB) appeared to practise self-censorship. While several media outlets said they would refuse to report on events organized by certain anti-Occupy Movement groups, because the groups had not prevented violence against the media, TVB did not join the “boycott”, even though several TVB journalists were brutally beaten up when they were carrying out their duties.

a) In the early hours of October 15, journalists from TVB exclusively recorded about seven policemen moving an Occupy Movement protester to a dark corner and beating him up for four minutes. However, in the report of the incident on the 7am news bulletin, the script was changed and the voice-over was deleted, sparking an outcry both inside the station and among the general public. Twenty-eight TVB journalists initiated an open letter to protest against the changes. They wrote: “Using this version (with the voice-over deleted) means the truth is missing from the report. We would like to reiterate that the script for the voice-over was factual and objective. The description did not involve any personal feeling or position.” Keith Yuen Chi-Wai, the head of the news department, told the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) that the case had been investigated by police after someone filed a complaint, and it therefore became known that the original report was incorrect. But Keith Yuen’s explanation did not resolve the dissatisfaction. The number of signatures continued to increase.

b) Ho Wing-Hong, TVB’s assistant Assignment Editor, who wrote the original script, was demoted to Chief Researcher on October 31. According to an internal email from the manager to all staffers, Ho was moved because the news bulletin will be extended next year. However, this explanation was widely rejected. Most TVB staffers believed Ho was demoted because he disagreed with Keith Yuen’s explanation at an internal meeting.

c) Journalist John Sin and two camera operators, Lui Chiu-Ho and Poon Kwok-Fai, were brutally attacked at Tsim Sha Tsui by anti-Occupy Movement protesters on October 25. The trio were reporting on an assembly organized by the Blue Ribbon Movement, which comprises three groups that support the Hong Kong police. They were verbally abused, and kicked and punched all over their bodies. Sin and Lui’s clothes were badly torn and both lost their glasses. Lui said: “I put up my hands and kept silent, but people simply ignored this and kept kicking and punching my body, head and arms.” Hong Kong police later arrested the attackers.

d) The attack immediately prompted Radio Television of Hong Kong, Apple Daily newspaper and Digital Broadcasting Cooperation (DBC) to refuse to report all events organized by the Blue Ribbon Movement. A TVB staff member launched an online signature campaign which drew around 300 signatures, but senior managers threatened to deduct annual bonuses and sack the TVB staffers if they did not remove their signatures.

3) Hackers support Movement with attack on Chinese Government computer systems

Some government departments in Mainland China admitted their computing systems suffered distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyber-attacks. It is widely believed the attack was carried out by Anonymous Asian Press, an international hackers group, who threatened a massive DDoS attack after the Hong Kong police used excessive force to try to evict Occupy Movement protesters on September 28. Hong Kong Government websites, and some pro-establishment media outlets, political parties or organizations, also suffered cyber-attacks.

4) Hong Kong Police suspected of using law to limit freedom of expression online

Hong Kong police are suspected of using the charge of “accessing a computer with criminal or dishonest intent” to crack down on online freedom of expression. According to the Security Bureau of Hong Kong, 11 people were detained during the Occupy Movement on various grounds. The allegations included inciting people to use hacker software to attack the Hong Kong Government computer system, and urging people to assemble at the Occupy Movement protest zones at Mong Kok. Two people have been charged and investigations are still being held into the other nine. Legislative Councillor Charles Mok queried whether the police had abused their power, but this was denied by Secretary for Security Lai Tung-Kwok.

5) BBC website blocked in Mainland after it airs Hong Kong police assault on protestor

The BBC’s official portal in China was blocked on October 15 after it reported that Hong Kong police assaulted an Occupy Movement protester. The head of international news, Peter Horrocks, condemned the blockage in a statement, saying he believed the move was an attempt at censorship.

6) Mainland Government orders censorship of all reports of “Dialogue”

On October 21, the Hong Kong Government Chief Secretary, Carrie Lam, and four other senior government officials conducted a public dialogue with Alex Chow, secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, and four other members of the federation’s executive committee. Official news agency Xinhua and China Central Television, both of which are state-owned, reported only the arguments of the Hong Kong Government officials. All other media outlets merely republished the Xinhua report.

7) News of death of prominent democracy activist Chen Ziming censored

Mainland media were completely banned from reporting that a prominent democracy activist, Chen Ziming, 62, had passed away in Beijing from pancreatic cancer. Chen was a prominent figure in the fight for democracy in China since the early 1970s. In 1989, he was accused of being the prime mover of the student-led democracy movement that ended in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Chen was jailed for 13 years and kept under surveillance after he was released on medical grounds. Information about his death was banned from traditional media and popular social media platform WeChat.

8) Veteran Mainland journalist detained by police after criticizing former propaganda chief

On October 22, retired journalist Tie Liu, 81, was accused by Beijing police of “provoking trouble” and “unlawful business operation” after he published materials relating to the Anti-Rightist Movement in the 1950s and openly criticized Liu Yushan, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party and the former Director of the Propaganda Department .

9) Chinese assistant for German magazine Die Zeit detained

Zhang Miao, an arts reporter for the German magazine Die Zeit, was jailed on October 2, accused of “committing provocative activities and creating troubles”. Zhang had helped Die Zeit in its coverage of recent protests in Hong Kong. She returned to Beijing on October 1, according to Die Zeit's China correspondent, Angela Köckritz. She was arrested the next day in the village where she lives. Köckritz wrote in Die Zeit that Zhang had been denied access to her lawyer and that her family was not told about the detention for days. Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Zhang was a Chinese citizen working for a German outlet in Beijing which had not complied with the proper regulations.

10) More than 100 Mainland citizens reportedly detained after supporting Movement

More than 100 activists, artists and poets were reportedly detained by police across China. Various sources said people were detained because they had shown their support for the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong.

11) Books by outspoken authors banned in Mainland

According to a report in Ming Pao Daily on October 12, books by a number of outspoken authors who openly expressed support for the Occupy Movement of Hong Kong were banned in Mainland book stores. The writers included Mainland scholar Mao Yushi, Taiwan scholar Yu Ying-Shih and Taiwanese Giddens Ko.

12) Tencent Xian website punished by seven-day shut down

Tencent Xian website was ordered by the local Internet Information Service Office to shut down for seven days from October 19. No reason was given, but many Mainland media outlets suggested the website may have not tightly controlled its content and may have allowed “malignant and harmful” messages to be disseminated through the internet, thereby breaching the Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services. However, none of the articles covering the shut-down reported any details of particular content or said which provisions had been breached.

13) Non-Mainland programs to be censored in China

On October 26, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) ordered all television stations to stop showing a Taiwanese film on the program of the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. The film is Kano, a baseball drama that allegedly gives a rosy depiction of the Japanese colonization of Taiwan in the 1940s. According to a report by Radio Free Asia on November 5, the SAPPRFT ordered all online media to censor all the content of entertainment programs produced outside the Mainland before they are aired on the internet. The reports gave rise to the widely held belief that SAPPRFT plans to control internet programming completely.

14) Online journalists now required to register under traditional system

On October 29, Mainland China’s State Internet Information Office ordered the traditional journalist system to be implemented in relation to online media. Previously, online journalists were not included in the press accreditation system, but the policy was changed suddenly. It is widely believed that the change showed the Chinese authorities are extending their reach into online media.

15) President Xi says good journalists should “speak well Chinese story”

The President of China, Xi Jinping, said on Journalists’ Day, November 8, that a good journalist has 10 requirements. His remarks were widely interpreted as meaning that all media workers should stick to the principles of the Communist Party. The last requirement of the 10 was that the media should “speak well Chinese story” which carries a double meaning. Many media workers believed the connotation was that the journalists should act as the mouth piece of the Party, as the Central Government has been asking the media to do.   

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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