Press Freedom in China Bulletin: NOVEMBER

Chinese newspaper coverage of the 19th National Congress in October 2017. Credit: Greg Baker/AFP

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent on December 8, 2017.To contribute news or information, email [email protected]. To visit the IFJ’s China Campaign page, go to the IFJ media violations in China map here. Follow the IFJ on Facebook here. Follow the IFJ on Twitter here.Download the traditional Chinese version hereDownload the simplified Chinese version here                           In the bulletin:

1)       Communist Party propaganda rife during 19th National Congress

2)       Media’s new ‘friendly’ arrangement doesn’t work

3)       Online crackdown continues

4)       Increasing number of media workers joining the Communist Party

5)       Hong Kong political cartoonist terminated by text

6)       British human rights activist denied entry to Hong Kong

7)       Hong Kong lawmaker tries to bar media, public from Chamber 

8)       Mainland legislative body demands HK and Macau to enact National anthem law


1)    Communist Party propaganda rife during 19th National Congress

October 24 saw the close of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of the Republic of China. In the lead up to and during the Congress, the Communist Party was in overdrive with the preparation and sharing of Xi Jinping propaganda and promotional materials. During the Congress, President Xi was re-elected as the General Secretary of the Communist Party, without surprise. Xi’s ideology and vision was approved by the party as ‘Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era’, becoming a charter of the Community Party. The adoption elevated Xi’s status, now in line with former President Mao.In the lead up to the National Congress, there were reports of incidents across the country, that appeared to be the government and authorities attempts to ensure the National Congress went off without issue.

a)    During the Congress, journalists reported that they were ordered to report on Xi’s achievements over the past five years and his ideology, which meant other reports, particularly about arts, culture and IT were cut.

b)    Bookstores across China rearranged displays to ensure that Xi’s relevant books were in prominent areas and window displays and label them as ‘best sellers’.

c)    Some of Xi’s books, including his book about governance had a print run in the lead up to the Congress, which saw 6.5 million copies printed in 22 languages to ensure anyone could access copies.

d)    The Press Centre offered free copies of Xi’s books to journalists covering the Congress.

e)    Beijing was covered in banners promoted the National Congress and Xi’s ideology

f)     Guangzhou Police Department joined with several other departments to launch a ‘clean up’ campaign, aimed ensuring no ‘dangerous’ or ‘illegal’ information was posted online

g)    Any news reports that were labelled as ‘socially unstable’ were deliberately delayed in publication. On October 22, an earthquake in Nyingchi City in Tibet Autonomous Region was not reported for two days, and all reports failed to mention the number of casualities.

h)    Ma Yinglong, the owner of a bookstore in Beijing was reportedly detained by police in early October. Police said it was because her bookstore sold books about Islam and Muslim culture. The bookstore was ordered closed, without clarification on when it would reopen.  

i)      Several well-known activists, including Gao Yu and Hu Jia, were reported moved from Beijing with trips to other provinces by authorities during the National Congress, so that foreign journalists were not able to contact them. Bao Tong, a columnist for foreign media, was placed on home detention during the Congress.

j)      Several bloggers were put in a detention centre for several days for allegedly expressing ‘extremist emotional feelings’ about the Communist Party, while others had allegedly forward videos online. The bloggers included: Liu Xiaoqin from Changdu, Zhou from Lingshan, Wan Tao from Wuhan, Yu Yungfeng from Hebin.

k)    Facebook confirmed that they had received several complaints from China about messages that were posted by Guo Wengui, a Chinese fugitive in the US. Guo’s account was shut down for several days after the complaints were made. The same happened to Guo’s Twitter and Youtube accounts.

l)      China’s Meteorological Administration (CMA) system, which is a closed weather monitoring system, was blocked by the Great Fire Wall, when it failed to send off a pre-typhoon signal in mid October when Typhoon Khanun neared China. The CMA tried to post a message on it’s official Weibo account warning people to stay safe, however because the message was written in Chinese characters of yellow, it was also blocked.

m)  Several organisations and universities organised ‘study panels’, to study the coming five year plan of President Xi.

2)    Media’s new ‘friendly’ arranged doesn’t work

The media and journalists faced several challenges trying to cover the National Congress. The IFJ learnt in the lead up to the Congress, that the Press Centre had failed to grant accreditation to at least five Hong Kong-based journalists from local outlets including, South China Morning Post, HK01, Cable Television of Hong Kong and the Ming Pao Daily. Although new procedures were put in place to ‘accommodate’ the media, several media were blocked from covering press conferences. The press conference announcing the new leadership of the Politburo Standing Committee, one of the last of the Congress, saw press from BBC, New York Times, The Economic, Financial Times,The Guardian Le Monde and Hong Kong Satellite Television, blocked from entering the venue. One journalist told the IFJ that they were not given a reason for been denied access. The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China voiced concern saying “using the media access as a tool to punish journalists whose coverage the Chinese authorities disapprove of is a gross violation of the principles of press freedom.”

3)    Online crackdown continues…

The Cyberspace Administration Office of China announced a new monitoring system for new online. The system will take affect from December 1 and is called the ‘Provisions for Monitoring News Services Management in the Internet Service’. The new provisions demand all workers who focus on news information must insist on correct political direction and ensure that they exercise the Communist Party and State media policy. They will be punished if they breach the previsions, with the maximum penalty been sacking. The Office also said they will establish a ‘blacklist’ to register those who breach the provisions.

4)    Increasing number of media workers joining the Communist Party

According to a report in the Ming Pao Daily, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, a growing number of media workers are joining the Communist Party. According to the report, Tencent, a popular online media outlet, more than 7,000 of its staff are members of the Communist Party, and 60% of those are technicians in the company. The company has already established several Communist Party committee branches in their offices in Shanzhen, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. NanFang magazine, which is owned by NanFang Media Group and known for its working relationship with the Guangdong Propaganda Department has more than 900 staff who are members of the Communist Party, and most of them work in the Digital Department.

5)    Hong Kong political cartoonist terminated by text

Zun Zi, well-known Hong Kong-based political cartoonist, had his freelance employment terminated by Next magazine on October 2. Zun Zi told the IFJ that he was informed his employment had been terminated via a text message, after he sent a message to an editor asking for his deadline. The editor did not provide an explanation for the decision. Zun Zi said: “The editor did not provide any explanation, I, actually, do not regret or feel unfair, I feel funny”. He went on to tell the IFJ that he understood the decision, and he would do the same if he was a billionaire and he could buy out Wen Wei and Global Times, two media outlets that are known for sharing propaganda of the Central Government of China. He added that the case illustrate the state of press freedom in Hong Kong, and the journalists and media workers need to remain alert, as the ‘New Political Era’ has changed. Zun Zi said all journalists “should stay firm in their position and never give up your rights easily!”

In July 2017, pro-democracy media mogul, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the founder of Next magazine and Apple Daily newspaper, announced that the parent company Next Digital Ltd had decided to sell Next magazine to Kenny Wee for HKD 500 million (USD 64,097,300).

6)    British human rights activist denied entry to Hong Kong

Benedict Rogers, the deputy chair of the UK Conservatives’ Human Rights Commission, a columnist for Hong Kong Free Press, reportedly was denied entry to Hong Kong on October 11, after he mentioned that he wanted to visit three of the key leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement in jail. Benedict said he had received a phone call from a British MP before his departure, and the MP disclosed that the China Embassy in London had voiced concerns about his visit, and that it would pose a ‘grave threat to Sino-British relations’. Although Benedict promised to cancel his visit to the jail and not engaged in any public events or interviews, he could not ease the concerns of China. Benedict flew to Hong Kong on October 11, but was denied entry. He returned to the UK on the same day. Albert Ho, Benedict’s legal representative in Hong Kong complained to the Hong Kong Immigration Department after they deliberately ignored his request to visit Benedict when he was detained at Hong Kong Airport. Hong Kong CEO Carrie Law refused to comment on the case. 

7)    Hong Kong lawmaker tries to bar media, public from Chamber 

Eddie Chu Hoi-Dick, a pro-democracy lawmaker of Hong Kong, and advocacy for independent online media in Hong Kong proposed to remove all media and general public from entering the Chamber of the Hong Kong Legislative Council. The proposal came when he was trying to deter the Council from approving a controversial joint checkpoint on the Hong Kong side of the cross-border railway to Guangzhou. Chu used this unprecedented tactic, drawing on the rule book of the Legislative Council, but immediately drew criticisms from pro-conservative lawmakers and top officials, include CEO Carrie Lam. The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) criticised the move. Chu has since said that it was simply a tactic and not a genuine move. He said that he did not approve of the joint checkpoint.

8)    Mainland legislative body demands HK & Macau to enact National anthem law

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee inserted the National Anthem Law into Annex III of the Basic Law on November 4, which means that Hong Kong and Macau, as Special Administrative Regions, have a duty to enact relevant laws. The move, widely believed to have come after football fans booed the national anthem during several games. According to the National Anthem Law, it will punish people if they change or modify lyrics, or play or sing the anthem in public. The maximum penalty is three years in prison.However, as Hong Kong is under the ‘One Country, Two System’ and has a different legal system to Mainland China, the law cannot be directly implemented in Hong Kong. Cheung King-Chung, Chief Secretary of Hong Kong said that the Hong Kong Government will enact the law as soon as possible, but denied to comment whether the local government will seek public consultation before. Shieh Wing-Tai, the former chairperson of the Hong Kong Bar Association raised concerns about how the law will affect free of expression. He also noted the wording of the anthem, which is not precise and could create uncertainty. The National Anthem Law became effective in Mainland in October 2017.IFJ[email protected]