China limits reporting on Egypt unrest in favor of ‘harmony’

Chinese information authorities are filtering results of Chinese-language Internet searches for “Egypt” and “Cairo,” according to Global Voices Online and The Wall Street Journal. The unrest raging there could prompt comparison with the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 or incite anti-government demonstrations.

Within China, demonstrations and other acts of group protest come under the heading of “mass incidents.” The Chinese Communist Party prefers the media to downplay “mass incidents” in favor of “harmony” and “stability,” two of its buzzwords. But censors are showing renewed concern about their ability to restrict reporting on the unrest.

At the beginning of January, well before the news from Egypt, China’s Central Propaganda Department had issued a set of 10 directives for news outlets, according to Radio France International and reports on the overseas dissident-run news website Boxun. The Hong Kong University-based China Media Project reports: “We have not yet confirmed this list with our own sources, but we have learned independently about a number of the orders listed in the bulletin, which supports its authenticity.”

They translate one of the items from the RFI report:

In the case of reporting of regular mass incidents, central media and media outside the region where the event occurs will not report…In the case of mass incidents the pointing of blame at the Party and government must be prevented.

In a separate post, the Media Project also reports that Propaganda Department officials are attempting to ban the term “civil society” in the media–with all its connotations of grassroots organization and political engagement.

The ban has been unsuccessful so far, the Media Project notes. Some journalists have simply adopted the phrase “public society” instead. But it is clear that for propaganda officials, China’s media freedom is still tightly bound up with the Chinese Communist Party’s fear of organized dissent.