Olympics: Media control at work

China’s media response to the story of the stabbing of two Americans was standard procedure: The government took charge of a sensitive story and determined what would be said. Hong Kong reporters might break new ground, but look at the mainland’s media coverage (here’s Kristin Jones’s analysis) and the only story you will see is from the official Xinhua New Agency. Carefully vetted crime scene footage is supplied only by China Central Television. The Central Propaganda Department issues directives to papers and magazines across the country about how to handle the story, but reporters and editors already know they won’t be able to break any news about the incident without the government’s approval.

For a clear idea of how the government controls domestic media in China, read Kristin’s chapter on “Censorship at Work: The Newsroom in China.” It’s in our overview of press freedom in China in advance of the Games, Falling Short. 

One of the worries we wrote about in Falling Short was the pressure that might be applied on people interviewed by foreign media, especially dissidents. Madeline Earp’s post yesterday, Dissidents’ spouses face great strain was, unfortunately, quite timely.  Zeng Jinyan, the wife of jailed activist journalist Hu Jia, has not been heard from since Thursday, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Hu had been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in April for his online writing. The case was particularly hard because the couple and their infant daughter had been kept under house arrest before Hu was sentenced.

As Madeline wrote yesterday, “While police have severely restricted her movements since her husband’s arrest in December 2008, she continues to update her blog (which was not one of the ones recently unblocked in China for the Olympics) and communicates with Twitter updates. She has become a kind of Holy Grail for overseas journalists seeking interviews. Local bloggers and freedom of speech activists try to deliver baby formula to her in guerrilla-style raids on her housing compound.”

In its statement before the Games opened, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China noted that this was an increasing threat: “Chinese sources report being intimidated or warned not to speak out,” the FCC’s statement said. CPJ repeatedly warned of the problem in Falling Short and in several other venues, including testimony to the Congressional-Executive Committee on China in February.