Author: David Bandurski

Now director of the CMP, leading the project’s research and partnerships, David joined the team in 2004 after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is currently an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. He is the author of Dragons in Diamond Village (Penguin/Melville House), a book of reportage about urbanization and social activism in China, and co-editor of Investigative Journalism in China (HKU Press).

CMP co-director Qian Gang to speak at media workshop

China Media Project co-director Qian Gang will give a speech on Chinese media trends under commercialization at “Changing Media, Changing China”, a workshop to be held at the University of California, San Diego, on May 5 and 6. The workshop is organized by UCSD political science professor Susan Shirk. [More @ NewsWise].
Participants will include journalists from China and the United States as well as communications scholars, political scientists and sociologists.
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 28, 2006, 3:40pm]

Human Rights in China: Yahoo! implicated in fourth conviction of Chinese dissidents in China: Yahoo! implicated in fourth conviction of Chinese dissident

In what is possibly the fourth revelation of Yahoo!’s cooperation with Chinese authorities resulting in the jailing of a Chinese citizen, non-profit association Human Rights in China (HRIC) said dissident Wang Xiaoning was sentenced to 10 years in 2003 in part on the basis of information provided by the US Internet giant. An announcement on the HRIC website said:
Among the evidence against Wang cited in the judgment is information provided by Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. stating that Wang’s “aaabbbccc” Yahoo! Group was set up using the mainland China-based email address [email protected]. Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. also confirmed that the email address [email protected], through which Wang sent messages to the Group, was a mainland China-based account. The judgment does not indicate whether Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. or Yahoo! China (which is now operated by mainland-based Alibaba.com) provided specific information regarding Wang’s identity. The judgment also notes that in 2001, administrators of Wang’s mainland China-based Yahoo! Group noticed the political content of Wang’s writings and did not allow him to continue distribution through the Group. He then began distributing his journal by email to individual email addresses. [Statement from Human Rights in China].[Reuters coverage @ CNN.com].
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 28, 2006, 12:52pm]

Market News (People’s Daily): A snapshot of China’s new moral campaign of Internet self-censorship

As the campaign for the “civilized” kicked into full gear in China, an April 24 editorial in Market News, published by the official People’s Daily, talked about the need for self-censorship for a more “civilized” Internet — a goal to be accomplished by pacts of good behavior between Internet companies in China, including Yahoo!. Clearly, this is about more than simply “indecent” material on the Web (April 14 People’s Daily coverage), but represents the systematic buying in to the censorship system on the part of Internet companies under pressure from the Chinese government. The Market News editorial is a revealing snapshot of the influence of Hu Jintao’s “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces” campaign on Internet media in China and how the campaign is being sold to the people:
[QUOTE: “After the self-discipline pact was issued, many Websites went through a process of self-examination. In total, they shut down more than 200 undesirable discussion forums and deleted some 1.5 million harmful Web postings.”]
People say “civilized” and I weep,
I’ve wallowed enough 10 years on the Web,
My back is bent and my stomach creaks,
And today, at last, an end to my anguish.

You might say this ragged verse expresses my deepest feelings, and I believe many people will feel the same. The Internet is essentially a good thing, allowing for faster and broader communication of the information of humanity and culture. But if one spends too much time sloshing about there, the good turns to evil, the civilized turns to the uncivilized.
To this point, the idea of going online in a civilized manner (文明上网) is a question of degree, of knowing what the limits are. This is easier said than done, and the proper “degree” is not an easy thing to grasp — it is the same for the individual, for the Website, for the government watchdog. And there might also be some things that transcend national boundaries and are tough to control. These questions can’t help but leave one troubled.
The Civilized Movement Has Begun
In recent days, Qianlong.com and 14 other Beijing Websites took the lead in raising the “Web Media Self-Discipline Pact” (网络媒体自律公约) to run the Internet in a civilized manner. After this, signees to the pact quickly reached more than 40, and now perhaps all of Beijing’s major Websites are party to the agreement. The curtain has drawn back on a vigorous cultural movement for the spirit of the Web.
Speaking of the Web, of course, the question of how to distinguish clearly between the “civilized” and the “uncivilized” has to be answered first. The self-discipline pact defines 11 categories of content, with specific cases of uncivilized behavior including: broadcast of information that violates national law, impacts national security, destroys social stability, harms relations between ethnic minorities, or [transmits] any material of a religious nature; fake news, paid-for news [有偿新闻/a vague concept covering various forms of unethical news under commercialization], news that violates the rights of others, sensationalist news and false advertising; unhealthy text, images, text or multimedia messages, advertisements, or voice messages; games containing violent or pornographic content; vulgar expressions, images, sound or video; violations of personal privacy, etc. Obviously, most of these problems target Websites …
Certainly, the question of a civilized Web touches on not only how to “run” the Internet, but also on how to behave online. I first went online in 1996, so could probably be considered one of China’s first Web users. In my more than 10 years using the Internet, much of my own behavior was not sufficiently civilized. For example, playing online games too much, or sparring with others, looking at things with a touch of “sexy” to them, etc. Of course, these are old scores, and lately I’m much more civilized, even to the point on occasion of writing a wholesome critique of some form of uncivilized behavior …
There are more than 100 million Web users in China, and I won’t say there aren’t those who can remain totally insulated from uncivilized behavior, but I would venture to say they are very few. The situation of most Web users is probably like my own — they all, at one level or another, have a touch of the uncivilized about them. The reason is that uncivilized things generally speaking are powerfully stimulating and seductive. We, who are flesh and blood creatures, find such inducements tough to withstand. But after we’ve toyed with them and seen them for a while we can’t help but find them tedious.
Most of us probably have our own way of looking at Websites. People often talk about the Internet as “eyeball economics”, and Websites are certainly a product of this — if they lose the user’s attention they can’t make money and shut down. Understanding this, we should look with heightened skepticism on the civilized quality of Websites. Speaking simply, some sites (especially comprehensive portal sites and online game sites) have for years done everything they possibly can to attract users, and will not hesitate to “hit line balls” [or walk the edge of the permissible/push the envelope as far as possible]. If overnight they awaken and realize the error of their ways, how much credibility will they have? …
Who Put the Civilized on the Sidelines?
[The author praises the flood of editorials on civilized use of the Internet]
Of course there are many different understandings of what “civilized” means, but when we talk of running and using the Web in a civilized manner, we mean something very specific, which in fact is quite easy to understand. Even so, the self-discipline pact does not always express it very clearly, and in some areas is ambiguous …
More importantly, different countries and social classes have different understandings of what is meant by civilized. Mr. Lu Xun once said that in the eyes of some the bare arm of a woman was the ultimate expression of beauty, while for others beauty was more oblique and suggestive. What is true of arms is true of other questions.
The Internet is the sign of the information age. It is a symbol of human progress and development. So when we have so many uncivilized things, we must ask: How is it that we have become deluged with uncivilized things? Why can’t the civilized be more prevalent? Is it our fault, or that of the Websites? Is the arm to blame, or the eyes? Is it the fault of science and technology, or of our hearts?
After the self-discipline pact was issued, many Websites went through a process of self-examination. In total, they shut down more than 200 undesirable discussion forums and deleted some 1.5 million harmful Web postings. We all know vaguely what these “undesirables” represent, but we also have reason to suspect that they are not entirely behind us”.

[Posted by David Bandurski, April 25, 2006, 2:03pm]

Tsinghua University releases report on mass media development with CASS

Judging from Chinese media reports, the outlook on traditional media was generally dark at a recent mass media forum held at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. At the forum, Tsinghua jointly released a report called “Chinese Mass Media Development 2006” with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Here are some numbers and predictions from the forum and the report:
Tsinghua’s report on mass media, released April 12, said China’s newspaper industry faced critical drops in advertising income in 2005, following a decade of rapid development. Overall ad spending on newspapers was down 15 percent year-on-year in 2005, the report said. The report cited the rise of new media, including the Internet, as the chief cause of the downturn, and also noted that the newspaper sectors overseas, including the United States, Europe and Japan, had also logged decreases since 1995. Cui Baoguo, director of Tsinghua University’s Media Management Center, predicted newspapers would in the future be replaced by new media.
Not surprisingly, the report was more optimistic about the business prospects of the Internet in China. In particular, the report offered eye-raising figures on the development of blogs, with blog users expected to surpass 60 million in 2006 and reach 100 million in 2007.
China’s film industry also made a strong showing in Tsinghua’s report. Output growth in the industry was ahead of the country’s GDP growth in 2005, it said, but noted Chinese films were struggling to shake off their conservative image.
Other bright areas included digital multimedia broadcasting and 3G business.
[Posted by Brian Chan, April 24, 2006, 11:45am]

Chinese blog sites issue “self-discipline” pact pledging to censor postings

Bowing to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s campaign of moral rectification, called the “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces”, well-known Chinese blog sites issued a pact of self-discipline to promote what they called “civilized Web use”. The announcement followed a similar pact among major Internet portals operating in China, including Yahoo, on April 9.
The pact generally called on participants to “obey the law and uphold social morals”, but much Chinese news coverage focused on the need to eradicate the use of blogs to spread insults, defamatory language or sensationalism, practices that have been on the rise. Sites signing on to the pact pledged to delete such language as soon as it appeared on the Web.
The agreement once again showed the willingness of Internet sites and service providers to cooperate with Chinese government censorship. Neither the April 9 agreement between Internet portals nor the latest between blog sites specify what types of speech will pass muster. [Coverage by Beijing Entertainment Post]. [Coverage by Yangcheng Evening News]. [Shenzhen Coverage].
[Posted by CMP Intern Reona Hu, April 24, 2006, 10:32am]

Chinese media report first domestic anti-spam lawsuit in a Beijing district court

As China kicked up its campaign for a more “civilized” Internet, domestic media reported the country’s first-ever lawsuit against Internet spammers, brought by a Beijing resident against two companies in a city district court. The plaintiff alleged incessant e-mails impacted her ability to do her job and violated her rights.

According to an April 10 report in the Beijing Morning Post, plaintiff Mrs. Wang alleged continuously receiving unsolicited e-mail advertising about skills training programs in two private e-mail accounts. The messages, allegedly sent by Guangzhou’s Internet and Computer Company (网络计算机科技公司), advertised the services of Shanghai’s Yijuan Enterprise Management Information Company (上海易腾企业管理咨询公司). Wang sought 1,100 yuan (US$140) in compensation, according to the newspaper. [ABOVE: User bowled over with “Garbage Mail”, from ChinaByte.net]
On her personal Weblog, Chinese technology reporter Sun Hui suggested removing the system of free e-mail might solve the issue, and called new regulations issued by China’s Ministry of Information Industry (MII) in March a good first step toward resolving the e-mail spam problem in China. Sun’s posting is translated below:
“Oftentimes, we simply tolerate the evil of junk e-mail, partly because there’s so much of it we can’t prevent it, and partly because we haven’t felt it’s reached a point of such seriousness that it has trampled our rights, not to the point where we want to use the tool of the law to protect ourselves. And when it has reached this point, the question is where to go, because for a long time there have not been clear methods or programs for dealing with junk e-mail. But beginning March 30 this year, with the passing of ‘Methods for Internet Mail Service Management’ by the MII (‘Methods’ for short), there is a ray of hope.
“Article 15 of the ‘Methods’ states clearly: Internet mail service providers and those who make use of their services should accept reports of offenses from users concerning Internet mail, and provide a means for users to offer such reports. From the standpoint of users, this opens a door for redress. As to whether e-mail service providers will be fair and reasonable in accepting user complaints, this remains to be seen. But the ‘Methods’ do represent a real breakthrough for how China deals with junk mail. Even though the above legal case [brought by Mrs. Wang] has not yet been decided, and we don’t know whether such cases will be taken on by the courts, a victory in the case would be an encouragement to China’s Internet using masses.
“Policies and methods [on this issue] mean users can rely on rule of law, and this is a good thing. Relying solely on the power of the government is not enough. Can Internet mail service providers and those who use their services fight junk mail together with the government? Actually, one reason for the serious nature of junk mail is the fact that e-mails are free of charge; if there were appropriate charges for such mail, I believe the junk mail problem would largely be solved. Of course, such specifics as how to charge, and how much, requires more discussion and market research. Ever since the Internet began, e-mail usage has been synonymous with ‘free’. If we now want to change this, it would not be such an easy thing.”
Reports of the case in Beijing came just one day after fourteen leading Web portals in the Chinese market, including US-based Yahoo, issued a joint proposal on April 9 for a “civilized” Internet, free of so-called false and indecent content. The proposal was a nod of assent to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s most recent policy statement calling for a campaign of moral rectification at all levels of Chinese society.
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 18, 2006, 1:24pm]

Reporters Without Borders: Yahoo! involved in third sentencing of Internet writer

The non-profit association Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said Yahoo had been implicated for a third time in the conviction of a Chinese Internet writer on subversion charges, citing a copy of the court verdict against Jiang Lijun (姜力均/姜力军), a former private enterprise boss in China’s Liaoning Province.
According to the group, the Chinese court alleged that in 2002 Jiang posted an article on the Web advocating the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party. “The verdict indicated that Jiang Lijun wrote that the Chinese regime was ‘autocratic’, that he favoured a ‘so-called western-style democracy’ and planned to set up a political party. It also said that he planned to disrupt the 16th Communist Party Congress by phoning the police with a false bomb alert,” said the group’s announcement.
According to the verdict, said RWB, Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) had verified that Jiang Lijun and Li Yibing, another “pro-democracy activist”, were the users of the e-mail account from which the article in question had been sent.
Associated Press and Reuters stuck to the original RWB press release in writing their own news reports on the incident. These were picked up by ABC News International, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily (Article: 雅虎又助京拘人) and others.
In the past, Yahoo has been criticized for its alleged involvement in the convictions of Li Zhi (李志) and Shi Tao (师涛). Li Zhi was sentenced after posting online comments criticizing official corruption. Shi Tao was convicted after allegedly sending internal documents overseas via e-mail.
The Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights group, made copies of the court verdict in the Jiang Lijun case available on its Website in both Chinese and English.
READ: Help US Firms Free China’s Web (IHT)
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 20, 2006, 10:41am]

Chinese media and academia debate journalism standards and payment for interviews

In the West it is understood as a matter of course that journalists must not offer cash or other inducements to secure story interviews [Example: LA Times ethics code/SEE “Access”]. In the wilder world of Chinese journalism, however, the lines are not always so clear, and one obstacle facing journalists in recent years has been public figures and academics demanding payment before granting interviews. Summaries of some of the most relevant cases on this issue follow plus a list of arguments pro and con:

The Li Yinhe Case – In March 2006 Guangzhou Daily said one of its reporters was asked to pay an “interview fee” after requesting to meet with Li Yinhe, a researcher from The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. According to the newspaper, Li’s rate was 500 yuan per hour (US$60/hr), with no charge for interviews under 15 minutes. The reporter interviewed Li for just over an hour and was asked to pay 500 yuan. Li Yinhe later explained publicly that she began charging in order to discourage a flood of interviews making demands on her time. She said interviews, which require time and energy, should not be granted free of charge. Li cited the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as an example of media who pay for interviews. In fact, the BBC’s code of ethics explicitly states the network must, “Disclose any direct or indirect payment made for interviews” and may not “pay people who act as information sources.” [Guangzhou Daily coverage of Li’s response available here].[More Chinese coverage here].
The Sun Daolin Case – According to a February 2005 news report by Yangcheng Evening News, when reporters approached film director Sun Daolin about a story on his experiences as a filmmaker and his thoughts on contemporary film, Sun asked to be compensated. The director argued that his speech amounted to a sharing of intellectual property. However, after Yangcheng reporters asked to know what Sun’s going rate was, the director said he could not determine this himself and stressed that he was not motivated by personal profit, the newspaper reported. [Yangcheng Evening News report available here].
The China Foreign Affairs University Case – According to a June 2005 report by Beijing Times, academics from China Foreign Affairs University agreed among themselves to demand “interview fees” from media at a minimum rate of 200 yuan per hour (US$25/hr). Their reasoning, according to the newspaper, was that as the interviews addressed the academics’ personal research achievements. The university reportedly responded by saying it had no right to interfere in the academics’ decisions concerning their personal rights and behavior. [Beijing Times report available here].
Arguments against “interview fees”:
A June 2005 editorial in China Youth Daily argued that officials and celebrities have a duty to uphold openness of information. By receiving payment for interviews, they may do harm to their credibility, the editorial said. It added that such exchanges of money are harmful to freedom of expression. [Chinese here].
In July 2005, the Global Times spoke with media organizations from South Korea, the United States, Germany and India and said it had found that payment for interviews fell outside journalism’s accepted norms. The newspaper said it had also found that the majority of media believed such behavior compromised the objectivity of reporting and damaged the credibility of experts, as well as serving as a harmful example to society. [Chinese article here].
Also in 2005, professor Zhan Jiang of China Youth University for Political Sciences argued that interview is a two-way process, allowing media to benefit from the expertise of a source and offering the interviewee an opportunity to build their reputation. Academics and officials, he said, should not request payment because in this capacity they serve a “public function”. If someone believes an interview will compromise their research achievements, they should refuse the interview rather than asking to be paid. [Chinese coverage here].
Arguments supporting “interview fees”:
In March 2005, Legal Daily published an editorial by Professor Sun Guorui, the Deputy Director of School of Law, Beihang University, arguing it was reasonable for media to pay for interviews with experts, who spend time and effort to contribute knowledge, experience and information. Sun also dragged the debate into the arena of intellectual property protection. [Chinese coverage here].
An editorial by Xiaoxiang Morning Herald in March 2006 argued that someone who is not a public official should not have a duty to the public’s right to know. If experts are offered the right to refuse interviews, said the editorial, they should also be given the right to request payment. The editorial said it was unreasonable to talk about journalists’ right to information without expecting them to pay for that information. [Chinese coverage here].
In April 2006 Ma Shaohua, an associate professor of journalism at Renmin University, argued in Beijing Youth Daily that the argument that says paying for interviews violates journalistic norms is irrelevant given the fact such norms have not yet taken shape in China. [Chinese coverage here].
[Posted by Brian Chan, April 12, 2006, 9:32pm]

Chinese Web portals and US-based Yahoo bow to Hu’s “Eight Honors” policy and call for a “civilized” Chinese Internet

Kowtowing to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s most recent policy statement calling for a campaign of moral rectification at all levels of Chinese society, fourteen leading Web portals in the Chinese market, including US-based Yahoo, issued a joint proposal on April 9 for a “civilized” Internet, free of so-called false and indecent content. While the statement was much more about political posturing and pandering to Leftist elements within the Party, the underlying message was a continued committment to Internet censorship.
The Internet firms signing the proposal included Yahoo, Sina.com、Sohu.com, Netease, Tom.com,China.com, search engine Baidu.com, YNET (北青网), Zhongsou (中国搜索网), Xilu (西陆网), Xici (西祠胡同网), Hexun (和讯网), and Daqi (大旗网).
State media predictably hailed the united front as a major breakthrough for social morals in the country and a key component of Hu Jintao’s vision of a “Harmonious Society”. Beijing Youth Daily put the headline in bold directly under its frontpage banner: “14 Websites Propose Civilized Operation of the Web”. A subhead directly below pointed readers to an editorial in Beijing Daily, the official mouthpiece of top city leaders in the capital, which said: “We believe that through the united effort of society, and with the continued cleansing of the online environment, the idea of operating and using the Web in a civilized way will become the dominant practice. The Internet will then truly become an important place for publicizing scientific theory, broadcasting advanced culture, creating beautiful spirits, promoting all that is just and honorable in society and correctly guiding public opinion” [Editorial here].
The reference to “correct guidance of public opinion”, a key buzzword for state media control, linked the joint proposal unambiguously with the state’s overall project of Internet censorship.
China’s propaganda apparatus has gone into overdrive to tout Hu Jintao’s latest campaign of moral rectification since the leader made a speech on “Socialist honor and disgrace” before delegates to the Chinese Political Consultative Conference on March 4. The latest state buzzword, “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces” (八荣八耻) has risen rapidly through the ranks of the Party’s ideological lexicon.
On March 6, China’s top propaganda official, politburo member Li Changchun, called on all levels of Chinese society to implement the “spirit” of Hu Jintao’s policy speech in order to “form the stable moral basis for a Socialist harmonious society”. [Coverage of Li speech here].
The joint proposal called on Web portals in China to self-consciously operate with the goal of creating a “healthy and civilized online culture”. Specific measures included rigorous self-censorship, standardizing of content production, and strengthening professional ethics among Web employees.
[Posted by Samantha Wang and David Bandurski, April 11, 2006, 12:19pm]