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IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin

IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin

August 8, 2012

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 September 08 2013, and contributions are most welcome.

Please distribute this bulletin widely among colleagues in the media.

1. IFJ urges protection of journalists
2. 107 Chinese online websites forced to shut down
3. Further restraints on posting of microblog messages
4. Chinese court rules detention of Chongqing blogger illegal
5. Mainland media forced to censor Xu Zhiyong arrest
6. Provincial Propaganda Department officer suspected of abuse of power
7. IFJ reminds Mainland journalists to respect the confidentiality of their sources
8. FCCC survey finds 98 per cent of correspondents think reporting environment in China is poor
9. Journalists from overseas media outlets forced to leave China
10. HK Information Service Department allegedly changes transcript relating to scandal over Secretary for Development
11. Four Hong Kong journalists prosecuted for contempt of court
12. Hong Kong ICAC forces two Hong Kong media outlets to provide journalistic materials
13. Taiwan Government allegedly fails to fully disclose information about Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement

1. IFJ urges protection of journalists

A series of attacks on journalists occurred on the Mainland and in Hong Kong although Li Baodong, China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, called for a condemnation of all acts of violence against journalists and called on parties to the conflicts to stop attacks against them and to support measures by the international community to protect the media. According to Xinhua, Li said: “Journalists are the ones on the forefront of the conflict to provide us with firsthand and timely information on the ground.” The IFJ is glad that Li has become the first person in the Chinese authorities to call for the protection for all journalists, but we believe action is more important than words.

a) According to a Xinhua report on July 14, journalists from Kunming television station were threatened by police on the night of July 12 in Xishan District. The journalists said that a policeman pointed a knife at a journalist when he was reporting on a car accident. The policeman damaged the crew’s equipment and threatened them, saying: “I can kick you to death today. My knife is here.”


b) According to New Beijing Newspaper July 18, two journalists from Hunan Satellite Television were attacked by several policemen with a stick when they were trying to report on an incident in which it was suspected that a street vendor beaten to death by urban management officers in Linwu County, Hunan. Journalist Li Haitao said he and his colleague Lei Kaim was hit all over his body by at least five policemen all over his body. Several policemen holding sticks hit him when he was in the car. During the scuffle, his head was hit five times. The pair, Li and Lei, suffered from multiple injuries all over their bodies including their heads. Their cell phones were either damaged or stolen. Li remembered one of the policemen threatened them by saying: “No more shooting, otherwise both of you die here.”

c) On July 15, Wei Songlin, a journalist from Hua Shang Morning Post, was attacked by several local law enforcement officers. Wei reported that they took away his camera and damaged his recording device because one of their senior officers thought that he was taking photos when two groups of people were protesting against each other in Baita District, Liaoyang City, Liaoning Province.

d) On July 30, Shih Wing-Ching, the owner of AM730 daily free newspaper in Hong Kong, was attacked by two unidentified people when he was leaving his home. Shih said they smashed his car with a hammer when he stopped in front of a traffic light. “I don’t know why but I believe it neither related to the content of the newspaper nor my point of views.” Shih said. Shih is one of the biggest property agency owners in Hong Kong and China. In 2005, he established a free newspaper, AM730 and is one of the newspaper’s columnists. He occasionally comments on Hong Kong public affairs, including the housing policy.

e) On July 30, Chan Kwong-Fai, a cameraman at Now Television of Hong Kong, was blocked by a security guard when he was trying to report on property tycoon Li Ka-Shing, after  one of his listed companies, Hutchison Whampoa, took the unusual step of cancelling a press conference at which the company was due to release its annual report. Chan’s eyebrow was injured during the scuffle. It was reported that at least five professional security guards escorted Li when his car was leaving. They physically blocked media personnel and one of them detained Chan when he was trying to move forward.

f) On August 4, Lo Kwok Fai of Next Magazine and Tang Chun-Wang of Ming Pao Newspaper were verbally abused, blocked and attacked by several people when they were exercising their duties. Lo was pushed to the ground at least three times, while Tang was kicked by unidentified people several times when they were trying to report on a scuffle at Mongkok, Hong Kong. Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), an IFJ affiliate, and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA) condemned the attacks. Tang, also an executive council member of HKPPA, said the media were concerned that similar cases might occur in the future. Hong Kong Police did not take immediate action to deter the attacks on the journalists. Tang said: “We merely wanted to report the fact to the public. Therefore we wish for people’s rights, including physical safety, while they are exercising their freedom of expression.” Lui Tsz-Lok, Convenor of the Press Freedom Committee, said the HKJA has noted at least 18 cases of journalists being attacked on the Mainland and in Hong Kong since the beginning of last year. Hong Kong police arrested and charged several of the attackers, but none of the attacks that happened on the Mainland were reportedly investigated by the Mainland police.

The IFJ urges the Central Government on the Mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Government send a clear message to the public that attacks on the media will not be tolerated. At the same time, we urge the Chinese authorities take the lead and set a good example for the international community to show they are fighting for the protection for journalists regardless of their nationality.

2. 107 Chinese online websites forced to shut down

107 online websites in China, including many news portals, have been forced to shut down by the State Internet Information Office of China since a crackdown was launched on May 9 by a newly formed department, the General Administration of Press and Publication, Broadcasting, Film and Television (GAPPBFT). The New Beijing Newspaper, which is under the direction of the Beijing Provincial Propaganda Department, reported that websites were forced to shut down because of they allegedly illegal or were blackmailing companies or individuals by threatening to publish negative information about them. However, the sites include news websites such as Dwnews.com, which is a popular news portal providing a diversified source of information for the territory. Chinaxwcb.com, which is under the direction of the GAPPBFT, reported on April 16 that the GAPPBFT issued a notice to all online media saying that all personnel must maintain positive promotion as their guiding principle when operating online portals. The personnel are required to follow the practice of traditional media, blogs and microblogs and to take up the role of guiding public opinion, and to voluntarily refuse to disseminate harmful or unauthorised information.

3. Further restraints on posting of microblog messages

Many countries including China have been using different methods and excuses to curb the free flow of information since they realised the internet is a very powerful channel for disseminating information. In July, the Beijing Internet Information Office, which is under the control of the Beijing government, forced 26 major online service providers in Beijing to establish a mechanism for the public to report to the office if there were any rumours. Three weeks later, an anti-rumour online platform was established. Qianlong.com, the portal of Beijing Propaganda Department, is responsible for providing information for the platform. In fact, many online users have been punished by the police after they were accused of posting rumours or disseminating messages that endanger public order without going through due process. Wu Hongfei, the lead singer of Chinese indie rock band Happiness Street, was detained for 10 days after she posted an online message on July 21 claiming that she wanted to “bomb” Beijing's housing and urban planning authorities. She told a journalist at Southern Metropolis Newspaper after she was released on August 2 and paid a fine of 500 yuan (US$96) that she did not know what she was doing at that time but she really did not mean to “bomb” the authorities. Wu was originally accused by police of disrupting public order. A man with a surname Li in Yinchuan, Ningxia Province, was detained by police on similar reasons after he posted a parody of the singer’s action, saying “I want to bomb the Beijing subway” and “Let’s blow up Tiananmen Square”.

4. Chinese court rules detention of Chongqing blogger illegal

It is common for bloggers on the Mainland to be punished after they exercise their freedom of expression on the internet. However a blogger has proven that such detention could be illegal. Wang Chengcheng, a blogger in Chongqing, was convicted of inciting subversion of state power and sentenced for two years’ labour in a re-education camp after he sent an invitation message to his classmates to drink floral tea at a liberation monument in February 2011. He was released after he served 21 months. He then filed a civil action against the Labour Re-education Commission for illegal detention and asked for damages and an apology. On July 5, the court upheld his claim and ordered the Commission to pay 18,000 Yuan (US$2307) in damages. However the court did not order the Commission to make a public apology.

5. Mainland media forced to censor Xu Zhiyong arrest

The Central Propaganda Department issued an order to all media not to report the detention of an activist legal scholar, Xu Zhiyong, who is one of the figures representing the New Citizens Movement. The order also forbade media to report a confiscated 600 publications from a non-governmental organisation, the Transition Institute. On July 16, Xu was formally arrested by Beijing police on a charge of disturbing public order after he had been under house arrest for three months. Xu has been pressing Government officials to disclose their assets. He was the founder of Open Constitution Institution, which was forced to shut down because the Chinese authorities did not grant a permit for it to operate as an independent non-governmental organisation. On July 18, the office of another non-governmental organization think tank, Transition Institution, was ransacked by about 20 people from the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau and police, on the allegation that the Institution was “illegal” because no license had been issued by the Bureau. The officers confiscated 600 publications without giving a clear explanation.

6. Provincial Propaganda Department officer suspected of abuse of power

While the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party keeps denying it is controlling the media or restricting information, it was disclosed that an official staff member of the Department intended to take advantage of his position to ensure that his daughter could study at one of the top local secondary schools. On July 8, a Mainland microblogger posted a confidential document on the internet which revealed an official in the provincial propaganda department of Meishan City, Sichuan, forced the local Education Department to arrange for his daughter to study in one of the top secondary schools in the area. The spokesperson of the provincial propaganda department admitted that the document was authentic but explained it was merely a document to approve the transfer of the child of an officer to a different school.

7. IFJ reminds Mainland journalists to respect the confidentiality of their sources

Some Mainland journalists appear to be developing a trend to file a complaint to the Central Government or Communist Party against some wrong doers using their real names, and to voluntarily produce evidence to the law enforcement bodies. Such a trend follows the encouragement of the Central Government, which has said that people can use their real names to file an online complaint to the Government. Wang Wenzhi, chief reporter of Economic Information, a subsidiary magazine of state-owned media Xinhua, filed a complaint against a Hong Kong-listed company, China Resources via his microblog. According to various Hong Kong media reports, he said that he would stop further disclosure of any information against the listed company if the law enforcement officers asked him for evidence. On August 5, a civil case against China Resources opened in the Hong Kong High Court, a former Mainland journalist, Li Jianjun, came to Hong Kong and prepared a lot of materials relating to the case and claimed he would give all the materials to Hong Kong law enforcement bodies to investigate the company. The IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said the media has a duty to protect sources of information, rather than assisting law enforcement officers to conduct their duties. “Media and law enforcement officers have different duties in a democratic society, and the media should not confuse them,” the IFJ said.

8. FCCC survey finds 98 per cent of correspondents think reporting environment in China is poor

According to a survey by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), 98 per cent of respondents do not think reporting conditions in China meet international standards and 70 per cent feel conditions have worsened or stayed the same as a year ago. The FCCC also noted that in the period surveyed, there were 63 cases in which police officers or unknown persons impeded foreign journalists from doing their work, including nine cases in which journalists were manhandled or subjected to physical force. Although the number of cases was lower than the previous year, it is still unacceptable. The FCCC is deeply concerned about the Government retaliation against foreign media outlets which have incurred official displeasure, physical threats to journalist when their reports have offended the authorities, an increase in cyber attacks on foreign journalists, continued restrictions on media going to the Tibetan-inhabited zone, and harassment of sources of information and Chinese assistants. The survey was sent to 232 FCCC members in Spring of 2013, of whom 98 per cent replied. On July 17, 2013, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that its Chinese language service was blocked on the Mainland. Its microblog accounts in four popular microblog services, including Sina and Tencent, were also suspended without any reason being given. In fact, quite a number of international media online portals are still blocked by the authority of China. These include the BBC and CNN.

9. Journalists from overseas media outlets forced to leave China

A journalist of an overseas media outlet Boxun was forced to leave Inner Mongolia on 10 July. Wang Ning emigrated to New Zealand in the early days. He said that he has been applied for a visa from the local Chinese embassy for eighteen times but none of them were succeed. In the July, he was able to enter into his home land i.e. Inner Mongolia and visited his seriously sick parents. However he eventually only able to stay at home for only three days because police took him away from his home on 10 July and being interrogated for a number of hours. On 16 July, he was escorted by Guangzhou police to aboard a plane back to New Zealand. Wang believes his series of revealing human rights violation cases in China agitated the nerves of Central Government of China. During the interrogation, he was denial of his legal rights and contact with the outsiders.

10. HK Information Service Department allegedly changes transcript relating to scandal of Secretary for Development

The Information Service Department of the Hong Kong Government allegedly amended a press release voluntarily in order to make it fit with the statement of Paul Chan Mo-Po, Secretary for Development, who was involved in a conflict of interest scandal. At the end of July, Apple Daily revealed that Chan’s family members had an interest in a plot of land in the New Territories that the government had plans to develop. Chan was accused of conflict of interest and failure to make proper disclosure. However Chan denied having any interest in the land and claimed that he had declared his interest to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, CY Leung and other Executive Council Members. In the Legislative Council meeting, he further explained the land is belonged to his wife and her family members. He and his family members did not have any interest. The Hong Kong Information Service Department made a transcript and sent it to the media. However, media investigations revealed that the indirect holding company of the plot of the land actually belonged to Chan’s spouse and his son. The media criticised Paul Chan for possibly having made a false statement. Chan denied making any false statement and said the media misinterpreted his meaning. The Hong Kong Information Service Department made a transcript of Chan’s statement subsequently but deliberately deleted “her”. At the same time, Chan refused to answer further questions when media and Legislative Council members kept asking for a clear explanation. The Hong Kong Information Service Department explained it was not unusual to amend a press release after a few days after it had been issued. The spokesperson said the amendment was made after the press officer of the Bureau reaffirmed the statement that was made by Chan in the Legislative Council.

11. Four Hong Kong journalists prosecuted for contempt of court

Four journalists, including an Editor-in-Chief, have been prosecuted for contempt of court by the Hong Kong’s Department of Justice of after two newspapers, Apple Daily and free newspaper Sharp Daily, which also belongs to Next Media Group, reported an interview with a suspect in a double homicide case on March 20, 2013. According to The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong University Media law professor Doreen Weisenhaus, said the action against the two frontline journalists was unusual. She said in general the proprietor, publisher, distributor and editor, rather than the reporters, will be prosecuted. The two journalists, Luk Yu-Ping and Law Yat-Sing, will be appear in the court on September 6. The other two journalists are Editor-in-Chief, Cheung Kim-Hung of Apple Daily and Li Pang-Kay of Sharp Daily. The IFJ is deeply concerned about the decision made by the Department against two frontline journalists. We urge the Judiciary Department of Hong Kong to carefully consider press freedom when dealing with the case. At the same time, the IFJ also urges all media outlets to give proper and adequate training for their staffs in order to prevent any misunderstanding.

12. Hong Kong ICAC forces two Hong Kong media outlets to provide journalistic materials

Commercial Radio of Hong Kong and iSunAffairs, a HK E-magazine, received a writ from the ICAC on August 7 which demanded that the two media outlets provide the journalistic materials used in an interview which was aired and published on January 24 and 25. According to various reports, ICAC asked Commercial Radio for journalistic materials in May but the request failed. Both media outlets said the case would be handled by lawyers and the case is due for a hearing on August 27, 2013.The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), an affiliate of the IFJ, and the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association, academics and legislative councillors, have voiced their strong opposition to the move. The IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said: “Not only is it common sense, but there is also a huge body of relevant cases from the European Court of Human Rights that shows that protection of journalistic materials is one of the basic conditions for press freedom. However, it seems that the law enforcement bodies of Hong Kong do not really understand the crux of the matter and have been repeatedly abusing their powers to force media to become tools of the prosecution. It is also deeply worrying that Hong Kong law enforcement bodies are adopting the practices of the Mainland, where many journalists are forced to give statements to the police without any due process.” We urge the Judiciary of Hong Kong to consider the recent case of Martin and Others v France in the European Court of Human Rights when considering the ICAC’s application. We also urge the media owners to say no to all attempts by law enforcement officers to abuse their powers in order to protect the professional duties of their journalists to report facts which are in the public interest.

13. Taiwan Government allegedly fails to fully disclose information about Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement

The Taiwan Journalists Association (TJA), an IFJ affiliate, and several non-government organisations criticised Taiwan Government for not fully disclosing information, and not holding meaningful consultations with several industries, before the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement was signed on June 21, 2013. According to the Inter Press Service News Agency, several industries including publishing will be opened up to Taiwan and China investors. However, commentators said the agreement seemed unbalanced. One publishing company said the Taiwan Government did not demand that China allow Taiwan publishers to enter China’s book and magazine industry, but allowed China’s state-owned publishing groups to invest in Taiwan.

Serenade Woo
IFJ Project Manager
IFJ Asia-Pacific

ENDS

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