The following instructions leaked and have been distributed online.
Effective immediately, re: Weibo posts related to Ukraine
Send all posts from the Horizon News account first, then repost from the main [Beijing News] account in order to promote Horizon. Do not post anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western.
Let me look at drafts before publication.
Carry out selection and control of comments: first enable selective comment display, then let suitable ones through. Everyone is responsible for the ones they publish. Pay real attention to which comments are allowed. Keep an eye on [responses to] each post for at least two days, paying attention at shift handovers.
If using hashtags, only use those started by People’s Daily, Xinhua, or CCTV. [Chinese]
This set of what appear to be internal corporate instructions briefly appeared on Tuesday in a Weibo post by Horizon News, a Beijing News affiliate focused on international affairs, as Chinese authorities engaged in a “tightrope act” over Russian troop movements into Ukrainian territory. The directions mix commercial with political imperatives, and were likely issued to social media staff by managers. Shielding Russia from negative coverage, injunctions against pro-Western messaging, and especially orders to follow the lead of central state media are all common elements of official media directives—in this case, the author may be relaying specific official instructions, or taking the initiative in anticipating the desired course of coverage. The post has now been deleted, but Weibo users have flooded the comment sections of other Horizon posts with the text of the leaked instructions.
Needless to say, instructions like these are not intended for publication, though some directives do include reminders. A 2015 directive on the sentencing of rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, for example, urged recipients: “Attentively guard this internal information on Internet commentary, [and] do not leak relevant Internet commentary work information.” Accidents happen. In 2013, a Weibo post from entertainer Peter Ho included the direction to “post at around 8:20,” revealing a coordinated campaign to boost critical state media coverage of Apple’s customer service in China. Ho initially claimed that his account had been compromised and that he had notified the police, but he later admitted in an interview that the post was arranged by “a certain website.” Former Google executive Kai-Fu Lee said he had been approached by CCTV about promoting the same content, and the state broadcaster came under stinging criticism for “placing the condom of state power over the instrument of your own private profit.”
The Horizon News instructions may have been posted accidentally, but if not, it would not be the first time a Beijing News Weibo account had gone rogue. On May 4, 2012, after the U.S. Embassy in Beijing sheltered legal activist Chen Guangcheng following his sensational escape from house arrest, Beijing News joined a coordinated barrage of editorials denouncing Chen and U.S. ambassador Gary Locke. That midnight, the paper’s official Weibo account expressed repentance, posting a mournful black-and-white photo of a smoking clown with the message: “In the still of the deep night, removing that mask of insincerity, we say to our true selves, ‘I am sorry.’ Goodnight.”
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.