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Beijing Handtwists US Media To Suppress China News

Paramilitary officers at Tiannamen Square (Pic. courtesy WP)

China’s moves to control opinion overseas appears to have taken a step forward with the pliant chief editor at one of United States’ most prestigious news agencies killing a story that probed a Chinese billionaire followed by the suspension of the journalist who wrote it.

The New York Times said in its Sunday edition (Nov.17) that Michael Forsythe, a Hong Kong-based journalist for Bloomberg had been suspended after the organisation’s editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler had decided to kill “an investigative article because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China.”
“Last week, after the allegations of self-censorship were published, reporters and editors in the Bloomberg bureau in Hong Kong who had worked on the unpublished article were called into a series of meetings, Bloomberg employees said,” reported The Times.
Norman Pearlstein who worked for Bloomberg News’ parent company Bloomberg LP had said he had “spoken Mr. Winkler and had heard that ‘the story was just not ready for publication and they’re still working on it,'” The Times continued.
The Times story went on to point out that following an expose by Bloomberg News last year about the present Chinese President Xi Jinping, subscriptions to the outlet’s terminals in China had fallen when government institutions had been ordered not to subscribe. Further, the Bloomberg website was blocked and its correspondents found it difficult to get residency visas in China.
Meanwhile, also on Sunday, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post used the Forsythe saga and other incidents to point out Beijing’s systematic plan of controlling opinion abroad by using its power, wealth and prestige. Hiatt writes “Paul Mooney, a veteran Asia journalist for Reuters, recently was denied a visa, with no reason given, according to the agency. Knowledgeable China hands for Bloomberg News, the New York Times and The Washington Post have met similar fates.”
But journalists are not the only ones. Academics are too. Hiatt describes Beijing’s refusal of a visa to Princeton academic Perry Link because he had contributed a chapter on the Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s Xianjing. “[b]ecause China never explains its refusals or spells out what kind of scholarship is disqualifying, the result is a kind of self-censorship and narrowing of research topics that is damaging even if impossible to quantify,” said Hiatt.
Hiatt however says China only hurts itself by doing this because, among other reasons, its leaders who wish to see China as a self-confident nation has the country’s prestige undermined “by their apparent fear of honest scrutiny.”
This blogin a posting on November 13 titled ‘US Media Moghuls Helping China Export Repression?’ highlighted an article in The Atlantic titled ‘Legitimising the ‘Civilized Internet’: China’s Seduction of U.S. Media’ where the journal discusses a meeting of the Presidium of the World Media Summit in October. The WMS is the brainchild of the Chinese Communist Party but has among the members of its top decision-making body a number of US media companies including The New York Times, Google, Associated Press, as well as the BBC, Al Jazeera and others.
The Atlantic suggests that one of the reasons these organisations are in the presidium is to improve the penetration of their media businesses into China. The New York Times, BBC, Google and CNN websites have been blocked on and off in China in the past and reporters from The Times and Al Jazeera not granted visas to enter the Chinese mainland.

Journalists Attempting to Cover Tiananmen Anniversary are Blocked

Twenty years after the Chinese government rolled tanks into Tiananmen Square to stop government protests, little has changed in terms of censorship and government control. Here is a video of a CNN reporter attempting to report from the square. It seems in China, censorship can be as high tech as blocking popular websites or as low tech as umbrellas.

Twitterers in China : What the Censorship on the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen is Really Achieving

The web exploded yesterday with the news that in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Chinese government blocked social networking sites including Twitter, Flickr, and Hotmail. Ironically it was the frustrated, angry, and sometimes joyously defiant “tweets” from many expats living in China that helped spread the news of the censorship.

“We call it being ‘harmonized’ here,” said one Twitter user , an America living in South China, where his teaching contract forbids him from political discourse and therefore wishes to remain anonymous. Many of the most tech-savvy are able to get around the ban using various proxy servers, connecting to a server in another country, and even using Twinkle, the i-Phone application for Twitter. Earliest reports suggested that the platform TweetDeck was being used as a workaround, but all who we spoke to said that service was intermittent or that it wasn’t working at all.

The South China professor says he sees an added curiosity in his students as a result of the censorship. “I have often said that the next internal revolution will come as a result of the myriad communication tools available like 3-G. That and a growing dissatisfaction with censorship will force change,” he says. “At the very least the outages have caused students to ask far more questions than ever before.”

Those discussing the issue on Twitter followed their posts with the hashtag #GFW for “great firewall” as a way to organize the conversation and so others could join in. But some worry that the tag is being used against rogue Tweeters as China discovers the tag and removes offending posts.

One active Twitter user, Robert Bono, a business analyst studying for his Masters at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, says that after years of staying silent, he has had enough of the blanket censorship.

“There is a generally accepted, but entirely publicly unspoken awareness that the media here presents a false picture of both internal and external affairs,” he says. “In terms of the average Chinese citizen, most here are aware of the events that took place twenty years ago in Tiananmen Square, but are too scared to discuss it publicly. It is Orwellian double-think on a massive scale.”

The government has taken numerous other measures to keep protests to a minimum, including scheduling exams for June 4th so students will be occupied in the classroom, and outright banning them from giving any interviews to the foreign press.

Bono says that this latest act of censorship has helped him decide to leave China for good, so he is “not particularly worried about any reprisals from the government” for speaking out on the issue.

When asked if he thinks the latest internet blockades will be able to successfully stop the flow of information or any commemorations relating to Tiananmen, one American living in China, who prefers to be known only by his Twitter name, WeirdChina, says that in the long term, it won’t make a difference, but the problem in China is that many people don’t even know they are being kept from information in the first place.

Junde Yu, a web entrepreneur from Singapore living in Guangzhou, created this now viral TwitPic of a crab catching the Twitter bird. The river crab is a symbol for censorship in China, and Yu says that although the governments main aim is to stop grassroots or student movements hoping to commemorate the massacre 20 years ago, there are few movements for them to worry about. No doubt the Chinese government took note of instances like the the revolt in Moldova latter dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” when preparing their censors for this anniversary.

Some have found a way to circumvent the seemingly all encompassing censorship. In remembrance of the of the unknown man made famous by the photo of him standing in the way of four military tanks, many say they will wear white shirts and blue pants in Beijing and other parts of China tomorrow.