Caixin Challenges Censors After Xi Demands Loyalty

As the ongoing “Two Sessions” meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) began in Beijing last week, an air of tension regarding government intolerance of dissent from Party members and the media was well noted. On Tuesday, the influential news organization Media posted an English-language article highlighting the censorship of an earlier Chinese article quoting CPPCC delegate Jiang Hong on the need for advisors to offer unrestrained suggestions. The English article has now also been deleted from Caixin’s website, but is stored in Google Cache:

Jiang Hong, a CPPCC delegate from Yangchun, in the southern province of Guangdong, who advises the government on economic policy, said in an article that appeared on Caixin’s Chinese-language site on March 3 that advisors should be free to give Communist Party and government agencies suggestions on economic, political, cultural and societal issues.

“However, influenced by certain events, everyone is a bit dazed and doesn’t want to talk too much,” he said in the article. “That’s what the atmosphere is like now.”

Jiang did not explain what he meant by “certain events.”

An article based on the interview was posted on the news website, but on March 5 it was deleted by the Cyberspace Administration of China, a government organ, because it contained “illegal content.”

Jiang also said in the interview that the ruling Communist Party has a tradition of “listening to different opinions” and that the right of people to speak freely was enshrined in the country’s constitution. Jiang, who is not a party member, said he was not interested in meddling in the party’s affairs, but “the rights to speak freely must be protected.”

The administration told Caixin’s editors that the article “violated laws and regulations.”

[…]”This is terrible and bewildering,” he said later. “I examined (the article) in all respects, but I couldn’t see anything illegal.”

Jiang said his original comments to Caixin were only intended to emphasize the importance of freedom of speech. He added that in the past he understood how censored articles might be problematic, but that in this instance he felt removing the story from the Net was “arbitrary.”

Yu Zhengsheng, the chairman of the CPPCC and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee – the party’s highest body – said at the opening of this year’s meeting of the political advisory body on March 3 that “delegates should be encouraged to exercise the function of democratic supervision” and are “supported in giving criticism and expressing opinions.” [Source]

Following recent moves by to strengthen the government’s control over the media—including a visit last month to leading outlets where the president stressed that news must “speak for the Party”—retired property mogul and outspoken Internet commentator Ren Zhiqiang found himself banished from social media platforms for stating that media should first serve the people. This week, Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper the South China Morning Post saw its Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, and WeChat accounts shut down.

The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe reports on the reputation of Caixin and founding editor Hu Shuli to skirt the line of acceptability with censors, and quotes China Media Project’s David Bandurski on the rarity of exposing censorship through an English-language article:

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’s editor in chief is , 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. […] [Source]

More commentary on the increasing anxiety felt in China’s media as Xi Jinping continues to tighten control from David Bandurski, via The Guardian’s Tom Phillips:

David Bandurski, an expert in Chinese journalism from the University of Hong Kong, said Caixin’s decision to speak out after that visit was both bold and rare.

“It really speaks to a kind of desperation about the environment for journalism in China that they would come out and make an incident of this,” he said. “[It is] all the Ds: despair, depression, despondency.”

“Chinese media are under a lot of pressure right now. They have been under pressure for years, even before Xi Jinping. But it has intensified to such a level under Xi that we are really seeing the erosion of nearly all space for professional media,” added Bandurski, who is the editor of the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project.

“Everybody is on eggshells. Everybody is walking on glass now. It is such an intense environment of control that no one knows what is possible. No one can get their bearings. This is a real problem for journalists now. How do we play any meaningful role in society if we can’t write much at all and we have no idea what we even can write?”

Bandurski said it was hard to predict whether Caixin would suffer serious sanctions over its decision to take on the Communist party’s censors. […] [Source]

As the Xi administration has tightened its grip over the media, it has also demonstrated increasing intolerance for alternative viewpoints in Party dialogue, and taken efforts to limit “improper discussion” among Party members and government officials. The increasingly tight ideological climate drew an unexpected call from Global Times editor Hu Xijin for “greater tolerance” of criticism. In their coverage of the Jiang Hong’s reaction to the harmonized Caixin article, the Global Times reports that he plans to propose a measure to the NPC on ensuring the legal right to self expression, and notes support for criticism from other official media:

Jiang told the Global Times on Sunday that the blocking of news reports is not “isolated and occasional.”

“We see many cases of deleting posts and blocking websites on the Internet,” said Jiang, who expressed concern about whether such moves are made in accordance with laws and regulations.

Jiang said that he has chosen to raise the issue of content blocking now because he is certain that the content in the blocked report in question did not violate any laws or regulations.

“That being the case, we need to think about whether decisions to block some content in the past were made on legal grounds or not,” Jiang said, noting that much still needs to be done to ensure that citizens’ right to expression is duly respected.

On Tuesday, China Discipline Inspection Daily, a newspaper affiliated with China’s top Party disciplinary watchdog, weighed in with an old saying that a thousand yes-men cannot compare with one person who criticizes frankly. [Source]

At The Wall Street Journal, Lilian Lin reports on representatives from the television industry candidly voicing frustration over newly released restrictions on TV content at a panel on the sidelines of the top political meetings in Beijing:

Zhang Guoli, one of China’s best-known actors and producers, said Monday that he and his peers had started to back away from making TV dramas due to increased government restrictions.

“From submitting an application to the final censorship, you have to negotiate with and get the nod from each relevant government department,” said Mr. Zhang, who is behind several of China’s highest-rated TV dramas. “It’s getting increasingly hard.”

[…] Gao Mantang, a veteran TV screenwriter who is behind several hit shows, said at the same panel on Monday that he was asked to get permission from six central government departments when producing “Family on the Go” (2012), a drama that won the hearts and tears of many Chinese viewers.

[…] “These government departments have no branch to take care of censorship, so we had to carry our discs and knock on each of their doors,” said Mr. Gao, describing the censors and broadcasters as “evasive” and lacking responsibility.

[…] It isn’t the first time that TV professionals have voiced frustration with China’s censorship at the country’s annual legislative meetings. But this year, as some delegates put it, raising the topic is getting “very dangerous” and considered “trouble-making” amid a broader clampdown on expression. [Source]

An English-language op-ed from China Daily stresses the need for raising “sensitive issues” at the , and praises AllChina Lawyers Association and CPPCC National Committee member Zhu Zhengfu’s proposal to stop the use of televised criminal confessions. “Words like these may not be music to all ears,” the editorial states, “But they are precisely what our society needs. They should not only be spoken and heard during the CPPCC National Committee and the NPC sessions. They are worth cool-headed deliberation at the two sessions, as well as policy moves that make real differences.” While China Daily encourages the discussion of sensitive issues inside the meetings, the Central Propaganda Department this week released a list of guidelines for domestic media covering them.