Minitrue 2017: July—Directive Leaks Slow to a Halt

This series is a month-by-month recap of 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.

CDT published no leaked directives in July.

The number of directives received has fallen sharply in recent years: CDT’s Minitrue series included 40 posts in 2017, down from 51 in 2016, 78 in 2015, 171 in 2014, and 114 in 2013. (Some posts, particularly older ones, include multiple directives, so these figures likely understate the decline.) Increasing pressure on media workers, growing awareness of the lack of privacy and anonymity in online communications, and the punishment of some identified or alleged leakers all appear to have fueled reluctance to risk distributing the secret instructions.

In any case, the number of directives obtained by CDT has only ever been a small fraction of the total. One, published in September 2015, was marked as number 320 for that year from the Central Propaganda Department alone. Orders may also come from other central-level bodies such as the Cyberspace Administration of China or the state news agency, Xinhua, or from any of hundreds of provincial or city-level offices. According to CDT founder Xiao Qiang, "in a typical day, large news portal editors receive at least multiple, sometimes dozens of censorship directives and requests. Not all from central government, but one to two a day from Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) or Central Propaganda Department is an approximate number." The true total must be at least in the thousands.

The relatively tiny size of the sample presented at CDT limits the conclusions that can be drawn from them in terms of broad patterns. One might infer, though, that directives still deemed worth the risk of leaking are of particular interest or importance.

For more on the Minitrue series, see Perry Link’s 2013 essay at The New York Review of Books, or Sarah Cook’s analysis of 2015’s directives at Foreign Policy.

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.