Comedian John Oliver, HBO website censored in China after Xi jokes

Mr John Oliver's segment dug into Chinese President Xi Jinping's distaste at comparisons to Winnie the Pooh.
Mr John Oliver's segment dug into Chinese President Xi Jinping's distaste at comparisons to Winnie the Pooh.

BEIJING • It was one Winnie the Pooh joke too far.

After mocking censors working overtime to delete comparisons of President Xi Jinping with the fictitious bear, comedian John Oliver and now the website of TV giant HBO have fallen victim to China's censorship machine.

The Chinese authorities blocked HBO's website in China, just days after Mr Oliver took Mr Xi to task, anti-censorship and monitoring group GreatFire.org said on Saturday.

HBO joins a long list of Western media outlets that have had their websites blocked in China, including The New York Times, Facebook and Twitter.

"China: The country responsible for huge technological advances but it still can't seem to get pandas to f***," Mr Oliver said as he opened the episode of Last Week Tonight.

Those technological advances include draconian surveillance and censorship measures which appear to have made HBO and Mr Oliver their latest victims.

Mr Oliver's name and that of the show he hosts were censored on China's popular Twitter-like Weibo.

"Send failure" was the message Weibo returned when news agency Agence France-Presse attempted to post Mr Oliver's name. "Content is illegal," the service said.

YouTube, which also airs Last Week Tonight, has long been blocked in China.

Mr Oliver's segment dug into Mr Xi's distaste at comparisons to the self-described "bear of very little brain" and introduced viewers to repressive changes under way in the world's most populous country.

Chinese netizens have often compared Mr Xi to author A.A. Milne's most famous creation, something that censors have been quick to purge inside the Great Firewall.

The segment also recounted recent headlines, from Mr Xi becoming "emperor for life" to a corruption purge that targeted his political rivals, to a crackdown on freedom of expression, human rights and religion, to an ongoing suppression and imprisonment campaign against China's Uighur ethnic minority.

"Xi is actively removing the post-Mao guardrails that were put in place," Mr Oliver said of changes to China's Constitution which allow Mr Xi to remain in power indefinitely.

"China is becoming more authoritarian just as it has major plans for expansion onto the world stage," Mr Oliver said as the segment neared an end.

"The era of do as we say may be dawning."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2018, with the headline 'Comedian John Oliver, HBO website censored in China after Xi jokes'. Print Edition | Subscribe