Minitrue 2017: February—Smog, AI, HIV

This series is a month-by-month recap of censorship instructions issued to the media by government authorities in 2017, and then leaked and distributed online. The names of issuing bodies have been omitted to protect sources.

January’s pair of pollution-related directives were followed by another in February, ordering the deletion of an article from state media news site The Paper. The piece described the results of a Peking University study which found that high PM2.5 levels caused 257,000 excess deaths in 31 cities around China in 2013. This contradicted a statement by a National Health and Family Planning Commission official the previous month that “it is too early to come to conclusions regarding ’s danger to health, particularly its long-term effects on the body.”

The Paper was in the crosshairs again at the end of the month with a deletion order for a report on the use of Chinese firm iFlytek’s automatic voice recognition on phone lines. “Do not hype related technical content,” the directive added. According to the targeted article, the system helped bring about an 80% fall in phone scams involving fake legal cases in Anhui, where the trial was held, even as such cases rose 70% nationally. The article noted several concerns surrounding the technology, from practical issues to the security and privacy implications of automatically monitoring the entire phone network. iFlytek was later the subject of a Human Rights Watch report highlighting the use of its technology for “‘public security’ and ‘national defense’ purposes.” It later won further attention with a digitally manipulated video of Donald Trump speaking Mandarin.

A third directive was also aimed at a single article, forbidding sites from republishing a NetEase article on the infection of five patients with HIV from reused needles at a Zhejiang hospital. The case echoes the Henan HIV scandal of the 1990s when thousands were infected by a flawed blood sale program. Activists blame Premier Li Keqiang, who became governor of the province in 1998, for overseeing an aggressive cover-up.

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.