Press Freedom in China Bulletin: September

Welcome to IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly Press Freedom in China Campaign e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be sent onOct 8, 2015.

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In this bulletin:

1.    Caijing magazine journalist makes televised confession

2.    Hong Kong photographer arrested in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Thailand</st1:place></st1:country-region> with safety vest

3.    Communist Party Disciplinary Commission punish TV host

4.    World War II 70th anniversary parade sees blanket restrictions for the media

5.    Kevin Lau attackers sentenced

6.    Online media continues to be targeted by authorities

7.    Media reporting restricted following Tianjin explosion

8.    CCTV censor cameraman incident with Usain Bolt

1. Caijing magazine journalist makes televised confession

On August 25, Wang Xiaolu, a business journalist for one of <st1:city w:st="on">China</st1:city>’s leading financial publications, Caijing magazine, was detained by police. Police detained Wang following a report he published on July 20 which reported that the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) was considering ending interventions aimed at stabilising the stock market. Following the report, CSRC’s spokesman, Zhang Xiaoju, denied any alleged suggestions made by the program and accused Wang of being irresponsible for not verifying information before publishing the article.

Following his arrest, on August 31, Wang issued a public apology and confession, which was televised on state-owned CCTV.  During the apology, Wang looked tired and nervous, while saying:  “I shouldn’t have published the report at such a sensitive time, especially when it could have great adverse impact on the market. I’m regretful of what I have done and am willing to confess my crime. I hope the judicial authorities will give me a chance and handle me leniently.”

The arrest of Wang comes after Chinese authorities clamp downs on media reporting of the troubled Chinese stock market. In July, the government issued a directive restricting all media to limit coverage of the stock exchange to prevent fluctuations in the market. The directive, which included Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television, advised that reports must be balanced, objective and rational to guide the market. The directive also ordered that all reports strictly use information provided by the local authority. 

The HKJA demands the immediate release of Wang and said that the detention of Wang is illegal. The HKJA said that the detention of Wang is violation of his personal liberty and question the legality of the confession on CCTV.

2. Hong Kong photographer arrested in <st1:city w:st="on">Thailand</st1:city> with safety vest

On August 23, Hong Kong-Canadian photojournalist, Kwan ‘Anthony’ Hok-Chun, was arrested at <st1:city w:st="on">Bangkok</st1:city>’s <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Suvarnabhumi</st1:city> <st1:city w:st="on">Airport</st1:city></st1:city>. Kwan, who was working for Initium Media in Thailand following the Erawan Shrine bomb, was arrested as he was about to board a flight back to Hong Kong for carrying an illegal weapon, which was a bullet-proof vest. <st1:city w:st="on">Thailand</st1:city>’s Arms Control Act (1987), prohibits the possession of military equipment without a license. FCCT has been urging the government to amend the laws for a number of years.

Following the arrest, Kwan was brought before a civilian court near the Airport and given bail for 14 days, however he is forbidden from leaving <st1:city w:st="on">Thailand</st1:city>. His employer, Initium Media said that the vest was theirs and that they had ordered Kwan take the vest with him to <st1:city w:st="on">Thailand</st1:city>. Both Kwan and Initium Media said they were not aware they had broken Thai laws.

The IFJ Asia Pacific office has written a letter to the Thai Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, calling on him to immediately withdraw the charges and release Kwan.

On September 7, Kwan was permitted to leave Thailand and return to Hong Kong, however the charges have not been dropped.

3. Communist Party Disciplinary Commission punish TV host

According to the China Discipline Inspection Daily, on August <st1:city w:st="on">9 a</st1:city> unit of the Central China Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party (CPDIU) within the State Administration of Press Publication Radio Film and Television (SAPPRFT) demanded that the China Central Television (CCTV) CPDIU punish Bi Fujian following his actions at a private banquet in April 2015. Bi, who is a program host with CCTV, was suspended from his position in April after videos surfaced showing him singing a song which mocked Mao Zedong, the former Communist Party leader.

According to the report of China Discipline Inspection Daily, directly control by Central China Commission for Discipline Inspection of Communist Party which is a governing body of Communist Party members, the party said they would be increasing its control of party members and would punish any members that violate any code of conduct.

4. World War II 70th anniversary parade sees blanket restrictions for the media

On September 3, the Chinese government held military parades to celebrate the end of World War II and the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. Prior to the celebrations, on August 23, the State Internet Information Office issued a directive to all online media that they should only publish positive reports and images of the upcoming military parades between August 23 and September 5.

Ming Pao report said: “The order demanded all reports and posted messages related to military parade must be censored before publication and ensure all are positive, no discredit, no distortion and no attack towards the military. Not a single harmful message is allowed to be posted on the internet.” The government authorities have been implementing a ‘clean up online’ policy for years which does not allow any harmful or illegal messages to be posted online. This year the government demanded all online media to be responsible for all online activity or messages and delete any which are deems harmful or illegal.

5. Kevin Lau’s attackers sentenced

On August 13, the Hong Kong High Court found Yip Kim-wah and Wong Chi-wah guilty of grevious bodily harm and stealing a motorcycle. The charges relate to the attack on Editor-in-Chief of the Ming Pao Daily, Kevin Lau, on February 24, 2014. Lau was attacked on his way to breakfast. He was hospitalised for an extended time and now uses a walking stick to assist his mobility. Following the High Court decision, Lau expressed gratitude to the police and court officers saying: “The verdict brings us light. It proves that any case involved in attacking media workers is able to bring culprit to justice. This case changes our past twenty years record which none of a culprit was bring to justice after media workers were attacked.”

He added that the aim of attacking media workers is jeopardizing press freedom and brings people to worry about the future of media industry. He is hoping the police department continues to investigate the case until the mastermind of his case can bring to justice. The Ming Pao Union also welcomed the verdict of Lau’s case and also asked Hong Kong Police Department continue its investigation.

6. Online media continues to be targeted by authorities

On August 5, the State Internet Information Centre ordered Phoenix New Media, a new media company, to amend their website after the Centre had received over 1300 complaints regarding harmful messages since January 2015. The Centre said that 16% of the complaints involved politically harmful messages and 38% involved pornography. The Centre did not explicitly state how the website had violated regulations.

On August 18, a number of VPN providers including Red Apricot announced that they had come under a huge cyber-attack which had stopped them from accepting new membership. Following the attack, a VPN programmer, Shadowsocks, said that he had been told by police that he had to stop providing information to Github, and delete all online information by August 20.

On August 26, Al Jazeera announced that its Sina, micro blog, account had suddenly been suspended by Sina. Al Jazeera had admitted that they were voluntarily self-censoring the content on their account to ensure they met China’s regulations.

7. Media reporting restricted following Tianjin explosion

On August 12, there was a deadly chemical explosion in Binhai New Area, Tianjian, in which over 100 people were killed and over 700 people were injured. The Fire Department of Tianjin released information stating that a fire broke out in a warehouse in Binhai New Area in Tianjin at 11 pm on August 12. Firefighters were attempting to extinguish the fire when there were two large explosions. Surrounding houses and buildings were severely damaged in the explosion and the local Environmental Department said that the blast contained several chemicals which could be dangerous to humans.

Information and reports of the explosion were not released until early on August 3 by the New Beijing Newspaper, which is directly controlled by the Beijing Propaganda Department. Media tried to access the scene by roads leading to the site were blocked by police. Some journalists gained access to victims in hospitals across the city, but there were reports that many had interviews interrupted and reporting outside the hospitals were also interrupted.

On August 13, the day after the explosions, the Chinese government announced that all media were banned from any independent reports, analysis or live broadcasting. Instead all media were to only republish reports by Xinhua, the People’s Daily Online and Tianjin Northern Online. Numerous Mainland media ignored the requests and instead published independent reports. Zhengzhou Evening Newspaper (a subsidiary newspaper of Zhengzhou Daily which is under control by Zhengzhou government) ignored the request and as such were punished by the State Internet Information Office. The Office said that the Newspapers social media platforms did not verify the information they were posting. As such the account was shut down for one week.

On August 14, the State Internet Information Office said that they had shut down more than 360 social media accounts following the explosions. The Office said that the accounts had violated the administrative regulations by disseminating rumours or defrauded people’s money. The Office also said that some prominent bloggers were creating an atmosphere of terror by comparing the Tianjin explosions to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945. As such over 70 social media accounts of prominent bloggers had been shut down permanently.On August 15, the State Internet Information Office shut down another 50 websites for the publication of information relating to the explosions. 18 of those websites were shut down permanently, while the remaining were shut down for one month. On August 16, the Tianjin Police Department arrested a man for allegedly reporting higher casualties of the incident on his social media account, QQ.

Journalists reporting close to the scene were also punished, with four journalists from New Beijing forced to leave by police on August 13. Images taken from their mobile phones, cameras and computers were checked and deleted by police, and a body search was conducted on one journalist for any concealed memory cards. According to Foreign Correspondents’ Club in China, at least five journalists were interrupted during broadcast by either unknown people or the police, including CNN’s Will Ripley and New York Time’s Andrew Jacobs. Both journalists received verbal abuse from unknown people outside the hospital where many of the injured were taken. Members of the crowd also demanded Ripley delete his recorded footage of the aftermath.

A similar incident happened to Seth Doane of CBS News, where a local policeman used a soda bottle to cover the camera while another attempted to physically drag Doane away from the hospital. On August 13, China Central Television was criticised for abruptly disconnecting a live broadcast of a press conference without explanation. During the press conference, officials were unable to provide answers to a journalist’s repeated questions about the minimum distance between the chemical warehouse and residential area.

8. CCTV censor cameraman incident with Usain Bolt

On August 27, Usain Bolt won the final of the 200 meter sprint at the 2015 World Champions in Beijing. However after the race he was hit by a CCTV cameraman on a segway. However the incident was not reported by any Chinese media. In contrast the incident received widespread coverage across the world, including the apology that was issued by the cameraman to Bolt.

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