Hong Kong—Four a.m. on Sep. 29, before throwing herself on the bed, Elaine Wang couldn’t wait to post photos of the chaos in the streets and wrote, “Tear gases were released at least five times.” on her Wechat, a major social network service based on mobiles in mainland China.
Hours ago, this Zhejiang girl was doing her first breaking news at Admiralty, central part of Hong Kong, with thousands of protestors who were pressuring Beijing to allow the Hong Kong public to nominate candidates for chief executive in 2017.
Experiencing a democracy protest first time in her life, Elaine, a journalism postgraduate at the University of Hong Kong, was eager to share what happened here with her friends in mainland China, where democracy protests rarely happened or are reported.
However, later she found only two of her friends liked that post on Wechat. One is studying in America and the other is travelling in Thailand. With suspicion, Elaine asked some of her friends in mainland to check whether they could view her posts or not, and the answers were identical, NO.
She was blocked.
Since Sep. 28, the first day of the protests, phrases related to the activities, such as “tear gases”, “Hong Kong police”, and even “umbrella”, the equipments protestors used against tear gases and pepper sprays, have been largely blocked in Weibo, another major social network service in mainland China, according to Weiboscope, a program at the HKU, monitoring censorships in mainland.
In this war of censorships, media on the mainland have been put into a difficult situation. Related departments of the Chinese government has already firmly rooted in the newsroom in some major media companies and mustered up its energy to tighten controls over online information. In China, Big Brother is watching you.
“All the four major web portals (Sina, Tencent, Sohu, NetEase) have received the same command that forbids posting or spreading any negative information about the issue you said (democracy protests in Hong Kong),” said Guo Biao, an editor in Sina’s Beijing station, who has recently held several articles supporting protests in Hong Kong. “As for the positive information, all the news should come from Xinhua News Agency and China News Service.”
Guo refused to tell the master of the command, yet a network editor in Sohu may give some hints. “In Beijing, local network culture management office has established its office in major media companies,” said Zhang Yanyan. “Censors there will decide what news should be blocked and send instructions to the newsroom.”
There are various network management offices and associations in mainland China. All the local Internet associates will closely follow the latest policies from the China Internet Network Information Center, whose director, Lu Wei, is also the deputy minister of the Central Publicity Department.
Earlier in August, the CNNIC released a regulation on the development of instant communication tools and its public information services, which says public information providers need to register in real names and accept certain censorships from CNNIC.
“We should push the work of Internet safety to a higher level,” said Lu, when he visited a new Internet Information Center in Guangxi on Sep. 19. “We will try our best to create a safe, orderly and stable Internet environment.”
Lu means what he said. The work of CNNIC and its teams covering major media companies around the country seems to be highly efficient.
“Normally, there will be a kick-off meeting first, and the rest is E-mails work,” said Zhang. Most of the times, no standard process is required. All censors have to do is to send an E-mail to various departments in the company. “Once a command is made, it must be strictly implemented,” Zhang said.
In Sina, Guo had similar experience. “We have to do the propaganda work well for the Party (the Chinese Communist Party) and protect its holiness,” he said, half self-mocking and half serious.
Sina microblog has just been listed on Nasdaq in April. As one of the biggest social network services in China, the company wants a stable growing environment, and not turning against the government seems to be a safe play.
“The company will be fined if some leaked posts have aroused extensive attention in the society,” Guo said. He also said basically things allowed to be reported are daily news of folks, not “survival problems”, such as oil leakages, pollution or any major accidents whether man-made or natural. “Problems like that touch the red line (Threaten the authority of the Party).”
As Tecent forbids its workers to give interviews in any form, all the contacts refused the interview; however, one person from the Mobile Internet Business group said, ”Their (department in charge of censoring) technique is advanced. They can find you, if they want to.” Refusing to give her name for safety reasons, the worker in Tecent left a shuddering message.
Since July, Guo has started to apply for the membership of the CCP. “After all, ideal cannot feed you,” he said.