Under Hu, China Tightening Media Reins

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
The Associated Press
Friday, April 21, 2006; 12:22 PM

SHANGHAI, China -- From Rolling Stone to online essayists to a scrappy Beijing newspaper, a wide range of media have felt the pressure of an official campaign to tighten controls on what Chinese see and read.

Under President Hu Jintao, who was in the United States this week, the communist government is challenging a growing public appetite for information with a stepped-up campaign to block content deemed politically or morally dangerous.

Hundreds of small publications have been shut down. Regulations on Web site content have been tightened. Dozens of journalists have been jailed, while others have been fired or demoted.

"All Chinese journalists to whom I have spoken say that freedom has vastly decreased since 2003," the year Hu became president, said Ashley Esarey, a scholar of Chinese politics and media at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Hu appears committed to media policies aimed at ensuring one-party rule by restricting free speech and reducing exposure to Western concepts of multiparty democracy and human rights.

Freezing Point, a weekly supplement in the Communist Party's China Youth Daily newspaper, was ordered to halt publishing after it printed an article in February questioning the official approach to history.

Editor Li Datong and his deputy, Lu Yuegang, were fired. When the supplement reappeared a short time later, it lacked its pointed content.

The government used to distribute regular memos to editors telling them not to report on sensitive topics. Now publications are instructed "not to sensationalize," said an editor in Shanghai, who asked that neither she nor her publication be identified for fear of official retaliation.

Esarey said a survey he led of more than 10,000 Chinese newspaper articles published since the 1980s showed a steady decline in content critical of the government.

He said Hu's lack of popular support may be making him even more inclined toward tight control.

Activists have accused foreign companies of cooperating with Chinese censors in their zeal to win access to a market with 111 million Internet users and hundreds of millions of potential magazine and other customers.

Yahoo! Inc. handed over e-mails that Chinese prosecutors used to convict dissidents. Microsoft Corp. agreed to shut down the blog of a Chinese user. Google Inc.'s new Chinese search engine filters out results for sites banned by Beijing.

Rolling Stone's troubles appeared to be political, though not due to its content.

The Chinese edition was launched in March, but was quickly declared illegal _ apparently due to a little-known government order last year that banned new magazine joint ventures. Officials have offered few details.

The magazine returned with a second edition in April, replacing the name Rolling Stone with the title Audiovisual World but with the content largely unchanged.

"We just wanted to keep the style of the magazine," said editor Hao Fang, who laughed but offered no explanation when asked the reason for the name change.

In a typically vague pronouncement, Chinese media were told recently to use less foreign content.

Television channels such as CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp.'s BBC World are limited to hotels and apartment buildings where foreigners live. But the government still monitors the signals and routinely blacks out broadcasts on sensitive topics.

On Friday, CNN and the BBC were repeatedly blacked out, apparently to prevent viewers in China from seeing a Falun Gong protester at Hu's White House appearance a day earlier.


© 2006 The Associated Press