Olympics: 21 edicts on coverage

About a week ago I mentioned a South China Morning Post article, “Screws tighten on mainland journalists” that outlined a 21-point memo that had come down from the Central Propaganda Department in July, giving guidelines for China’s media coverage during the Olympics. These sorts of directives are typically disseminated across the country, to editors at every newspaper and broadcaster by the Central Propaganda Department. This list is a broad one, but during breaking stories very specific directives can come down daily, even hourly when necessary. For an example of what they look like, here’s a selection from our pre-Olympics report, Falling Short. 

The SCMP’s coverage of the story was good, but The Sydney Morning Herald  was kind enough to provide a translation of the document. The subtext of what you read is that of a country absolutely intent on the proper behavior of its media while the world is watching, and an attention to detail and possible problems across an entire range of hot button issues. (And some not-so-hot button issues, too. I’ve dropped in a few explainers for some that might be obscure to foreigners.)    


1. The telecast of sports events will be live [but] in case of emergencies, no print is allowed to report on it.

2. From August 1, most of the previously accessible overseas Web sites will be unblocked. No coverage is allowed on this development. There’s also no need to use stories published overseas on this matter and [website] operators should not provide any superlinks on their pages.

3. Be careful with religious and ethnic subjects.       

4. Don’t make fuss about foreign leaders at the opening ceremony, especially in relation to seat arrangements or their private lives.

5. We have to put special emphasis on ethnic equality. Any perceived racist term as “black athlete” or “white athlete” is not allowed. During the official telecast, we can refer to Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei.” In ordinary times, refer to Taiwanese athletes as “those from the precious island Taiwan…..” In case of any pro Taiwan-independence related incident inside the venue, you shall follow restrictions listed in item 1.

6. For those ethnic Chinese coaches and athletes who come back to Beijing to compete on behalf of other countries, don’t play up their “patriotism” since that could backfire with their adopted countries.

7. As for the Pro-Tibetan independence and East Turkistan movements, no coverage is allowed. There’s also no need to make fuss about our anti-terrorism efforts.

8. All food safety issues, such as cancer-causing mineral water, is off-limits.

9. In regard to the three protest parks, no interviews and coverage is allowed.

10. No fuss about the rehearsals on August 25. No negative comments about the opening ceremony.

11. No mention of the Lai Changxing case. [Lai is a Chinese businessman, charged with corruption who fled to Canada.]

12. No mention of those who illegally enter China.

13. On international matters, follow the official line. For instance, follow the official propaganda line on the North Korean nuclear issue; be objective when it comes to the Middle East issue and play it down as much as possible; no fuss about the Darfur question; No fuss about UN reform; be careful with Cuba. If any emergency occurs, please report to the foreign ministry.

14. If anything related to territorial dispute happens, make no fuss about it. Play down the Myanmar issue; play down the Takeshima island dispute. [China and Japan both claim them.]

15. Regarding diplomatic ties between China and certain nations, don’t do interviews on your own and don’t use online stories. Instead, adopt Xinhua stories only. Particularly on the Doha round negotiation, US elections, China-Iran co-operation, China-Aussie co-operation, China-Zimbabwe co-operation, China-Paraguay co-operation.

16. Be very careful with TV ratings, only use domestic body’s figures. Play it down when ratings go down.

17. In case of an emergency involving foreign tourists, please follow the official line. If there’s no official line, stay away from it.

18. Re possible subway accidents in the capital, please follow the official line.

19. Be positive on security measures.

20. Be very careful with stock market coverage during the Games.

21. Properly handle coverage of the Chinese sports delegation:

A. don’t criticize the selection process

B. don’t overhype gold medals; don’t issue predictions on gold medal numbers; don’t make fuss about  cash rewards for athletes.

C. don’t make a fuss about isolated misconduct by athletes.

D. enforce the publicity of our anti-doping measures.

E. put emphasis on  government efforts to secure the retirement life of athletes.

F. keep a cool head on the Chinese performance. Be prepared for possible fluctuations in the medal race.

G. refrain from publishing opinion pieces at odds with the official propaganda line of the Chinese delegation.

(Reporting from Hong Kong)