China's online censors act to control press

Articles deleted from Caixin's websites; HK paper's Web presence blocked on mainland

HONG KONG • China's Internet censors appear to have renewed efforts to rein in the press, with the influential Caixin Media and Hong Kong's South China Morning Post being the latest casualties.

On Monday, Caixin posted an article on its English-language website about the country's Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, deleting a March 3 article on Caixin's Chinese-language website because it contained "illegal content".

The Chinese-language article had quoted Mr Jiang Hong, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body, reported The New York Times. He had expressed the view that advisers should be free to give their opinions to the Communist Party's leaders, who have gathered this month for the annual parliamentary sessions.

Mr Jiang was quoted as saying that "certain events" had cast a shadow over the meetings, leaving attendees "a bit dazed" and not wanting "to talk too much".

The Chinese-language article was removed on Saturday and the English-language article has also been taken down.

In its article on Caixin's predicament, The New York Times said that it is highly unusual for a Chinese news organisation to publicise the government's censorship of the news media, and that it comes less than three weeks after President Xi Jinping made a high-profile visit to leading state-controlled news organisations - Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV and the People's Daily - telling them that they existed as propaganda tools for the Chinese Communist Party.

"The English-language article from Caixin is a highly unusual instance of a Chinese publication publicly exposing an act of censorship," said Mr David Bandurski, an editor at the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong. "I think we can also guess that serious turf wars are happening within the leadership over control of the very business of press control," Mr Bandurski told The New York Times.

Yesterday, Hong Kong's Apple Daily reported that South China Morning Post has had its online presence wiped out on the mainland. The Post's official Weibo and WeChat accounts have been shut down, and its English and Chinese-language websites blocked.

Apple Daily quoted an unofficial source from the Post as saying the newspaper did not know what led to the clampdown.

The Post, said Apple Daily, might have crossed the line with its recent articles on China. It cited a piece headlined "PLA officers make rare public show of disappointment at military budget increase", which was published late on Sunday.

Lately, the Communist Party has shown no hesitation in striking out against anyone, no matter how famous, who questions its control of the news media, reported The New York Times.

Last month, one of China's leading online commentators, Mr Ren Zhiqiang, had his microblog deleted after he criticised President Xi's call for the news media to serve the party. The outspoken property tycoon had nearly 38 million followers on Weibo.

Last month, China issued new rules requiring foreign-owned media to seek prior approval for all online content.

The rules say online content publishers should "promote core socialist values" and spread ideas, morals and knowledge that improve the quality of the nation and promote economic development. The rules are set to take effect today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2016, with the headline 'China's online censors act to control press'. Print Edition | Subscribe