National Day censorship intensifies in China

New York, September 30, 2009—National Day celebrations on Thursday will be marred by extensive media restrictions in China, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The public holiday marks the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949

October 1 is the latest in a series of anniversaries in China that have triggered greater censorship as the government has sought to limit dissident opinions and promote a unblemished image of a unified China, according to CPJ research. Extensive government censorship also accompanied the 50th anniversary in March of a failed Tibetan uprising, and the 20th anniversary in June of the 1989 crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.

Among the media restrictions being imposed for National Day:

  • Chinese Internet users have been reporting higher than ever content-monitoring, Web site closures, and blocking of social networking sites, including forums and micro-blogging platforms, for weeks in the run-up to the celebration.
  • The Internet remains inaccessible in parts of Xinjiang where violent riots between China’s majority Han Chinese and the local ethnic Uighur community broke out in early July, according to international news reports.
  • International journalists and analysts say local journalists are under intense pressure to cover only positive news.
  • Foreign journalists say they have been obstructed trying to film preparations for the military parade, and have been targeted by unknown sources with e-mails carrying malware to disrupt their computers, according to news reports.

“Propaganda officials are obstructing and censoring media coverage of an important national anniversary, one that deserves not only celebration but critical analysis,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Chinese citizens have an internationally recognized right to express and receive opinions about their own history. The authorities should respect that by lifting restrictions on reporting and by halting censorship of online coverage.”

The Berkeley-based China Digital Times posted Central Propaganda Department directives it said had been circulated to Chinese news bureaus and leaked by individual users of the international micro-blog site Twitter in August. “As for 60th anniversary columns that take a look back in history, immediately ‘fast forward,’ do not allow articles that “keep dwelling on the ’60s and ’70s,” one said. Another read: “During National Day period, do not republish reports from Southern Weekend, Southern Metropolis Daily, Beijing News, or Beijing Times,” according to propaganda department. Those Guangzhou and Beijing-based newspapers frequently carry independent investigative reporting. CPJ has not independently verified the directives, but they are in keeping with orders issued in the past.