Many thanks to the Freedom House China Media Bulletin for working up this list of the worst and the weirdest of Chinese media control efforts.
Chinese Censorship in 2011: The Worst and the Weirdest
In 2011 Chinese leaders appeared to emphasize propaganda value over commercial viability and audience demand. For example, all commercial TV ads were replaced with propaganda messages in Chongqing.
In addition to censorship and criminal charges, a growing number of journalists, bloggers, and online activists were subjected to physical violence and arbitrary detention under harsh conditions, with sometimes fatal results
In response to challenges from the micro-bloggers Chinese officials made repeated visits and statements designed to emphasize the need for domestic microblog providers to ramp up controls and eradicate “rumors.” Beijing also announced new rules that require real-name registration and avoidance of a laundry list of vaguely defined topics. If this trend continues, the “microblogosphere” of 2012 may be a shadow of its former self.
Editors and internet-portal staff reportedly receive as many as three notices per day—by text message, phone call, or e-mail—that contain updates, adjustments, and minutiae pertaining to official censorship directives.
Foreign firms attempting to gain access to the vast Chinese market have faced countless obstacles, and the internet sector is no exception. Applications that fail to comply with the government’s censorship and surveillance demands are generally banned in China, allowing their domestic competitors to flourish.
Barely a week goes by without some new evidence of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to sway foreign audiences, partner with other regimes’ state media, or suppress overseas criticism of its policies. During 2011 content-sharing agreements were reached with state media in Syria and Zambia, assistance to Ethiopia’s government in jamming dissident broadcasts, the launch of Arabic and Thai-language versions of China’s Baidu search engine, and the jailing of Falun Gong radio broadcasters in Indonesia and Vietnam.
Throughout 2011, there were numerous reports of cyberattacks, cyberespionage, and hacking that originated in China, and evidence steadily accumulated that these acts were carried out with government approval. Targets included Britain’s Foreign Office; at least five multinational energy companies; the French Finance Ministry; and the accounts of hundreds of Gmail users, including human rights activists, journalists, military personnel, and senior government officials in the United States and South Korea
Chinese officials frequently call for a crackdown on “fake news,” but the targets often involve factual accounts of corruption, police brutality, and other abuses. Yet state media were repeatedly fabricating their own reports. Alert netizens noticed when state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) used footage of fighter jets from the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun as part of a news segment on a Chinese air force drill.
Sometimes the extent of the censors’ paranoia still manages to surprise. China’s media regulator urged television broadcasters to refrain from airing popular fantasy dramas that involve characters traveling back in time, as they could encourage harmful phenomena like “feudalism, superstition, fatalism, and reincarnation.
In June 2011, a state-sponsored movie celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party was widely panned and proved unable to draw crowds on its own. This caused Chinese authorities to censor online reviews to prevent critical comments, require state-owned enterprises to arrange theater trips for employees and delay the release of Hollywood blockbusters such as the new Transformers and Harry Potter films.
Organizers of the World Cup golf tournament held in Hainan succeeded where the International Olympic Committee failed in 2008—they convinced the Chinese government to grant uncensored internet access for the international sporting event. The open access was made through a server based in Hong Kong to more than 120,000 attendees and participants. This allowed journalists and fans from China to temporarily enjoy a privilege that is routinely denied to their 1.3 billion fellow citizens.
The use of Chinese flags and military symbols in the MGM remake of the cold-war action film Red Dawn drew the ire of the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times. As a result, MGM digitally changed the flags and symbols to North Korean.
The Chinese government published a tit-for-tat response to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports. The Chinese critique of U.S. human rights practices included “fairly strict restriction” of the internet. And yet roughly 80 percent of the sources cited in the Chinese report were U.S. media outlets, websites, government entities, and civil society groups, indirectly undermining the report’s claim that the United States had “turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentioned it.”