Tuesday, March 8, 2016

MICHAEL FORSYTHE - Chinese Publication, Censored by Government, Exposes Article’s Removal

A news organization led by one of China’s most prominent journalists is sounding the alarm about censorship and the growing restrictions on free speech, citing a source very familiar with the situation: itself.

On Tuesday, the influential and respected news organization Caixin Mediaposted an article on its English-language website reporting that the country’s Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, which it called “a government censorship organ,” had deleted a March 3 article on Caixin’s Chinese-language website because it contained “illegal content.”

The article, which Caixin said was removed on Saturday, quoted Jiang Hong, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body, who said that advisers should be free to give their opinions to the Communist Party’s leaders, who have gathered this month for the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the country’s legislature. Mr. Jiang was quoted as saying that “certain events” had cast a shadow over the meetings, leaving attendees “a bit dazed” and not wanting “to talk too much.” The New York Times cited that Caixin article in a report on Friday.

For a Chinese news organization to publicize the government’s censorship of the news media is highly unusual, and it comes less than three weeks after President Xi Jinping made a high-profile visit to some leading state-controlled news organizations, including China Central Television and the news agency Xinhua, telling them that they exist as propaganda tools for the Communist Party. While Caixin has always had more leeway than those organizations, it must still obey increasingly strict rules on what news organizations can publish.

“The English-language article from Caixin is a highly unusual instance of a Chinese publication publicly exposing an act of censorship,” said David Bandurski, an editor at the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong. “I think we can also guess that serious turf wars are happening within the leadership over control of the very business of press control.”

Caixin went so far as to interview Mr. Jiang about the censorship, who said he found it “terrible and bewildering,” and could not fathom what laws and regulations he had violated that warranted the article’s removal.

Caixin’s editor in chief is Hu Shuli, arguably China’s most highly regarded journalist, who is known to have a keen sense of how far she can push the envelope in publishing articles that expose corruption or criticize government policies. In 2005, when she oversaw another pioneering publication, she told The Times: “We go up to the line — and we might even push it. But we never cross it.”

But lately, the Communist Party has shown no hesitation about striking out at anyone, no matter how famous, who questions its control of the news media. Last month, one of China’s leading online commentators had his microblog deleted after he criticized Mr. Xi’s call for the news media to serve the party. The commentator, Ren Zhiqiang, a real estate executive, had nearly 38 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.

Ms. Hu did not reply to an emailed request for comment. When called on her cellphone, her secretary said Ms. Hu was unable to talk because she was in a meeting. On Tuesday, online readers, even outside China’s so-called Great Firewall, saw this note in Chinese when trying to reach the March 3 article, stating that the page was unavailable and redirecting readers to Caixin’s home page. By Tuesday afternoon in Beijing, the same note appeared when trying to open the English-language article.