Sign up for weekly updates

IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin - December 2010

(IFJ/IFEX) - December 8, 2010 - In this bulletin:

1. Former Journalist Jailed For Accepting Media Interviews In China
2. Grip Tightens Around Liu Xiaobo Family, Journalists After Nobel Award
3. Journalists Detained After Reporting Deadly Shanghai Fire
4. Media Blocked From Reporting Asian Games
5. Surveillance Operations Compromise Journalists' Materials
6. Radio Television Hong Kong Recruiting Next Year
7. Protesters Angry At State-Owned Broadcaster
8. WikiLeaks Reveals China Fury At Google
9. Latest Restrictive Orders Made By China's Authorities

1. Former Journalist Jailed For Accepting Media Interviews In China

The International Federation of Journalists was deeply disturbed to learn that a former journalist, Zhao Lianhai, was jailed on November 10 in China for more than two years for accepting media interviews about the tainted milk scandal that rocked the country.

"Zhao is convicted as he accepted interviews by some of non-mainland media outlets on the street outside a restaurant and police station in 2009," Zhao's attorney, Li Fanping, said. "However neither one caused any social disturbance, though around ten people surrounded the media and Zhao. Nobody knows who they were, but normally police will send a number of officers to supervise the whole event."

Zhao was also convicted of organising the group of tainted milk victims' families to fight for compensation. After the sentence, a number of journalists were blocked by some security guards and prevented from interviewing Zhao's sister near her residence.


2. Grip Tightens Around Liu Xiaobo's Family, Journalists After Nobel Award

The brother of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo has been warned not to talk to the media, particularly foreign news outlets. According to a report of Hong Kong-based Ming Pao on November 8, Liu's younger brother said that their whole family was warned by China's security bureau not to accept media interviews or attend the ceremony to be held in Oslo on December 10. Many scholars, lawyers and artists were also prevented from leaving the country, as authorities said "they might have endangered national security". A number of Beijing-based foreign correspondents were threatened when they applied for an extension to stay in Beijing. A report in Ming Pao on December 4 said the journalists were asked to meet Foreign Ministry officials where they were asked to report less of, and not take the lead in, reporting Liu's case.

Liu Xiaobo was detained at the end of 2008, just before the release of Charter 08, a manifesto for political reform he helped to draft calling for freedom of assembly, expression and religion. On December 25, 2009, he was sentenced to eleven years in prison for inciting subversion.

The awarding of the prestigious Peace Prize to Liu by the Norwegian Nobel Committee has angered China's leaders.

3. Journalists Detained After Reporting Deadly Shanghai Fire

A deadly fire in a high-rise residential building in Shanghai on November 15 saw the Shanghai Propaganda Department order that media "positively" report the incident, base their stories on Xinhua News Agency reports and remove articles not fitting this brief from the internet.

Dozens of journalists rushed to the scene to report on the fire, which killed 58 people and injured around 100, but were later reprimanded by Shanghai Propaganda Department officials. A journalist told the IFJ that officials of the Shanghai Propaganda Department shouted at them and even detained a number of the journalists for an hour until they promised to report the case with a positive angle. "They were furious and pointing their fingers at us because many journalists arrived at the scene and made live reports," one journalist said. "People across the country saw that the whole building was burnt."

On November 15 the State Council Press Administration and the Shanghai Propaganda Department also placed non-publication orders on reports of the incident.

4. Media Blocked From Reporting Asian Games

Five journalists at Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper were refused press cards by Chinese authorities, permits which would allow them to report on the Asian Games. Apple Daily editor-in-chief Cheng Ming Yan said he was angered by authorities' attempts to manipulate the coverage of the Games, an international sporting event organised by the Olympic Council of Asia.

It is the second time journalists from the newspaper have been prevented from covering a large-scale event in 2010, with Apple Daily refused access in May, without reason, to the World Expo in Shanghai. Apple Daily journalists also faced obstacles when covering the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, such as the case of an accredited journalist who had a "return home" permit confiscated by authorities.

5. Surveillance Operations Compromise Journalists' Materials

The IFJ is urging the Government of Hong Kong to make reforms to the law in order to provide absolute protection of journalists' work, after enforcement officers discovered journalistic materials when conducting covert surveillance investigations.

The Commission on Interception of Communications and Surveillance, a covert surveillance watchdog, disclosed two media-related cases in its 2009 annual report published on November 22. In the two cases there was a reasonable conclusion that the suspects under surveillance were in contact with the media, but the Commission's panel judge nonetheless granted permission for law enforcers to conduct surveillance operations.

In one of the cases, information in monitored conversations was found printed in a newspaper. When this was raised by a supervisor at the Commission, the judge did not stop the surveillance operation.

The IFJ urges legislation be amended in order to give full protection to all journalistic materials and sources.

6. Radio Television Hong Kong To Recruit Next Year

Hong Kong's Department of Commerce and Economic Development announced that Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) will commence recruitment of civil servants, including journalist positions, in 2011. Commerce and Economic Development Permanent Secretary Elizabeth Tse said promotions and recruitment will begin in the first quarter of 2011, with some 80 posts to be filled. Chairperson of the RTHK Program Staff Union Janet Mak Lai-ching said the additional vacancies will not be able to meet new developments in the broadcaster's operations, including an expanded digital media presence and new television channel. Mak added that the overall staffing levels remain insufficient to meet the demands of new services and a number of contract staff members might have to take a cut in wages if they are successful in applying for a permanent position.

7. Protesters Angry At State-Owned Broadcaster

Hundreds of protesters stormed the offices of state-owned China Central Television in Beijing on December 4, accusing the broadcaster of lying to its audience by not airing reports of the many human rights violations which occur each day across the nation.

According to Hong Kong newspaper reports, the protesters said that human rights violations, including forced evictions, legal malpractice and judicial injustice were common.

A similar protest was staged at the broadcaster last year.

8. WikiLeaks Reveals China's Fury At Google

A Chinese Communist Party Politburo member is said to have been angered after "Googling" his name and finding critical comments online, prompting a direction to attack the company's operations in China. United Kingdom newspaper The Observer reported on December 5 that information disclosed by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks revealed that a senior member of the party was responsible for the attack. The report said the identity of the Politburo member and the potential involvement of other top officials was unclear. The report also said that China's authorities have been extremely concerned about the use of Google mapping software which may disclose the location of Chinese military facilities.

Google previously ran its business operations from mainland China, but moved to Hong Kong in March 2010 in order to circumvent China's moves to censor the famous search engine.

9. Latest Restrictive Orders Made By China's Authorities

Various non-publication and other restrictive orders have been issued in the past month, covering subjects such as dangerous chemical leaks, water pollution and the recent Asian Games in Guangzhou. A list of orders follows:

November 8:

• Shenzhen Provincial Propaganda Department demanded there be no reporting conducted or comments distributed about a recent case where a male employee of Foxconn, a manufacturer of consumer electronics, fell from a company building in Shenzhen.

• Guangdong Provincial Propaganda Department issued an order that no report be made about excessive levels of the chemical thallium discovered in the upper streams of Bei River, a northern tributary of the Pearl River in southern China.

• Beijing Provincial Propaganda Department issued a non-publication order regarding artist Ai Weiwei, who had arranged a "Harmonize" banquet, an event mocking Chinese authorities.

November 9:

• Guangzhou Provincial Propaganda Department issued a non-publication order regarding an incident of water pollution in Conghua City, Guangzhou, which caused an outbreak of intestinal disease.

November 10:

• The Central Propaganda Department ordered all media to begin publication of a dedicated column on the Asian Games.

November 11:

• The Central Propaganda Department ordered no reports or comments should be made about a mainland journalist who was the recipient of a press award in Taiwan.

November 15:

• The Central Propaganda Department ordered all media reports of a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan be based on Xinhua News Agency reports.

• The Central Propaganda Department ordered no further reports be made about Zhao Lianhai, representative of victims and families in the Sanlu tainted milk scandal (see bulletin item 1 above).

• The Central Propaganda Department ordered that all reports about a ship, the Yuan Xiang, should be based on the department's official press release. The ship, with 20 Chinese crew members, was hijacked on November 12 by pirates in the Somali Basin.

• Guangzhou Provincial Propaganda Department placed a non-publication order on individual reports of an incident at the 10-metre air rifle event at the Asian Games. The order followed an incident where a judge of the event mistakenly stopped an athlete representing Kazakhstan from shooting, causing him to come in second place after a Chinese competitor.

November 29:

• The Central Propaganda Department blocked individual reports about an incident on November 29, when more than one hundred primary school students fell down a staircase and were hurt at a school in Akesu Prefecture City, Xinjiang. The order said reports should be based on Xinhua News Agency accounts of the incident.

Latest Tweet:

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledges Zimbabwe situation is a challenge for the whole of Africa and…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.