Minitrue: Four Leaked CAC Censorship Directives on Ukraine, Beijing Olympic Budget, and Ban of Russian and Belarusian Paralympians

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online.

Date: March 3, 2022

Content: Implement the March 1, 2022 directive and give feedback at 22:00 as required. 

Please strictly implement the relevant requirements in accordance with the March 1, 2022 directive. To Phoenix, Baidu, Tencent, Sohu, Netease, Sina, Toutiao, Kuaishou, Douyin, Yidian, Xiaomi Browser, Sogou Browser, 360 Browser: in accordance with the March 1, 2022 directive, strictly implement relevant work requirements for websites, news clients, and mobile browsers, and submit feedback data through the system at 22:00 tonight. Provide feedback data (including but not limited to hashtags, topics, online polling, livestreams, etc. that have already been dealt with) and representative samples (which must be marked with platform name and individual account information). Please provide feedback in document form, and note the platform in the filename. Feedback goes under this directive, not under the March 1 directive. 

Remarks: March 1, 2022 directive

Content: Instructions (related to the situation in Ukraine) 

Regarding the situation in Ukraine, please strictly guide content and work to bring down the overall temperature. Please strictly implement the following work requirements: 

1. Strengthen list management. Without exception, existing hashtags started by individuals, self-published media, and commercial platforms must not be included in trending topics, and new hashtags are strictly prohibited. Apart from local media hashtags that feature objective reporting on official government statements or on measures such as the evacuation of Chinese citizens living overseas, any other local media hashtags should gradually move down and drop off the lists, and the addition of new hashtags on lists should be controlled.

2. All individual and self-published media live streams from the battlefield are suspended, without exception.

3. Apart from core media [i.e. the core state-media outlets such as Xinhua, CCTV, People’s Daily etc], all news topics started by commercial websites and self-published media will be dissolved, without exception, and collected content citing foreign media reports will be suppressed and dealt with.

4. It is forbidden to start any Internet polling or new discussions related to this topic, and existing voting topics will be deleted, dissolved or suppressed. All networks are requested to fulfill their main responsibilities and carry out stringent vetting in advance. Our office will also step up random inspections, and deal strictly and on a case-by-case basis with platforms that exhibit inadequate implementation. (March 3, 2022) [Chinese]

Date: March 3, 2022

Content: Reminder regarding the International Paralympic Committee’s announcement banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in the Winter Paralympic Games

Strictly control the temperature on this topic, do not allow pop-up windows with related information, do not include on lists, do not start hashtags, and strictly control harmful information. (March 3, 2022) [Chinese]

Date: March 3, 2022

Content: Instructions (regarding the International Paralympic Committee’s announcement banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in the Winter Paralympic Games) 

Attachment: None. 

Regarding the International Paralympic Committee’s announcement banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in the Winter Paralympic Games, in the absence of unified arrangements, media outlets of any kind are not to publish follow-up reports, commentary, or interpretation, nor cite any information or reports from overseas. Commercial websites and new media platforms are not to repost or cite related reports or information, start hashtags, or include it in the top trending topics; steadily dial down the temperature while simultaneously strengthening management of the comments section. (March 3, 2022) [Chinese]

Date: February 17, 2022

Content: Instructions 

Attachment: None 

Feedback request: All Beijing municipal departments will disclose their provisional 2022 departmental budgets at 10 a.m. today (February 17). Please do a good job of reporting in strict accordance with the following requirements:

1. Reporting should be based on content derived from established city-level media sources.

2. Without exception, do not report on Winter Olympics-related funding, personnel outlays (including wages, subsidies, etc.), debts, municipal commission funding, overseas funding, and so on. Do not report on or cite examples from the budgets of the General Office of the Municipal Party Committee, the Municipal Public Security Bureau, or other party and government departments, nor the budgets of democratic parties or civic organizations. Strengthen thread-management. (February 17, 2022) [Chinese]

The four leaked censorship directives are issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to major Chinese social media platforms and online news portals. The timing and content is consistent with previous directives published and translated by CDT. On February 22, a set of what appeared to be internal corporate instructions on Ukraine coverage briefly appeared in a Weibo post by Horizon News, a Beijing News affiliate focused on international affairs. The post, which was quickly deleted, cautioned: “Do not post anything unfavorable to Russia or pro-Western.” It also contained advice for submitting news drafts before publication and controlling comments: “[F]irst enable selective comment display, then let suitable ones through. Everyone is responsible for the ones they publish.” In response, Weibo users flooded the comment sections of other Horizon posts with the text of the leaked instructions.

On March 3, another set of instructions was leaked. This time, the instructions appeared to come from the CAC, the powerful central government agency that oversees the regulation, censorship, and control of China’s online tech giants. The leaked document instructed sites and portals to dial down public sentiment on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and “Strictly control challenges to our official statements, vilification of our foreign policy, incitement of Sino-Russian antagonism, pessimism about Sino-Russian relations, hyping of so-called historical episodes, and dissemination of harmful viewpoints that support or adulate the United States.”

As Chinese state media has echoed and amplified Russian disinformation about the war in Ukraine, pro-Putin and pro-war sentiment on Chinese media has grown more heated. Dissenting voices urging peace or voicing concern for refugees and evacuees have been muted and censored. CDT has previously compiled and translated Chinese reactions to the invasion including censored anti-war voices and related comments addressed to the late doctor-whistleblower Li Wenliang on the “Wailing Wall” beneath his final Weibo post.

The timing and content of the censorship directives about the banning of Russian and Belarusian Paralympians and the announcement of Beijing’s 2022 municipal budget, respectively, are also telling. On March 2, the International Paralympic Committee announced that Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete in the Games as “neutral athletes with colors, flags and other national symbols removed because of the invasion of Ukraine.” But on March 3, due to “fears that a ‘deteriorating’ situation [in the athletes’ village] could lead to violence,” the committee made a sudden about-face and decided that Russian and Belarusian Paralympians would be banned from competition in the Games. Russia launched a last-ditch appeal but failed to overturn the decision, and Chinese state media shied away from covering the controversy. On March 4, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) censored an anti-war portion of the opening speech by International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons, in which he stated that he was “‘horrified’ at what was happening in the world.” The IPC later demanded to know why the speech was censored, but CCTV has yet to respond.

The censorship directive about the Beijing 2022 municipal budget announcement reflects concerns about public discussion of the cost of the Winter Olympic Games. If the cost of high-speed rail is included, the Chinese government is estimated to have spent at least 56 billion yuan ($8.8 billion) to host the Winter Olympics, “almost double the original budget, despite a pledge to ensure the Games would be ‘economical.’” State media has proclaimed the 2022 Beijing Olympics to be the “best in history” and suggested that strong merchandising and sponsorship revenue will allow the Games to break even. For the government, the power, prestige, and international “image-burnishing” conferred by the Olympic Games represents a good return on investment, but some Chinese citizens beg to differ, given the social and economic costs of the ongoing COVID pandemic. As these censorship directives illustrate, those who do beg to differ will be swiftly and efficiently censored.

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.

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