US embassy cable - 07BEIJING7035 (original version)

OPEN BUT NOT TRANSPARENT: LOCAL REPORTERS CRITICIZE 17TH PARTY CONGRESS MEDIA STRATEGY (original version)

Identifier: 07BEIJING7035
Wikileaks: View 07BEIJING7035 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Beijing
Created: 2007-11-08 10:53:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PHUM PGOV PROP CH
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
VZCZCXRO1280
PP RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHBJ #7035/01 3121053
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081053Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3343
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIJING 007035 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/09/2032 
TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, PROP, CH 
SUBJECT: OPEN BUT NOT TRANSPARENT: LOCAL REPORTERS 
CRITICIZE 17TH PARTY CONGRESS MEDIA STRATEGY 
 
REF: A. BEIJING 6606 
     B. OSC CPP20071019968173 
 
Classified By: Political Internal Unit Chief Dan 
Kritenbrink.  Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (C) Although the Communist Party employed a more 
sophisticated media strategy during the 17th Communist 
Party Congress October 15-21, local contacts tell us 
they were disappointed with the Party's tight 
regulation of domestic coverage while the Congress was 
in session.  Press controls inside China were at least 
as severe, if not slightly more so, than during the 
16th Party Congress in 2002.  Although reporters this 
time were treated to more press conferences and 
granted greater access to meetings and delegates, 
journalists were given very little of substance to 
report.  Caijing, a magazine known for cutting edge 
reporting, was denied press credentials altogether, 
according to one contact.  Some sources tell us, 
however, that the Party leadership believes the 
improved treatment of foreign journalists resulted in 
more positive international coverage of the Congress. 
End summary. 
 
Access Versus Substance 
----------------------- 
 
2. (C) In the lead up to the 17th Communist Party 
Congress, Chinese official media trumpeted the 
unprecedented number of journalists, both foreign and 
domestic, who had received credentials to cover the 
event.  Altogether, according to a Xinhua News Agency 
report, the Party accredited 807 domestic and 1,135 
foreign reporters, compared with 570 domestic and 840 
foreign journalists for the 16th Party Congress in 
2002.  Xinhua also boasted about the greater number of 
press conferences that took place on the margins of 
the Congress and the expanded ability of journalists 
to observe meetings and interview delegates.  A 
Reuters (protect) correspondent told Poloff that he 
had access to 32 provincial delegation meetings this 
year compared to just four at the 16th Congress.  He, 
along with a small group of foreign reporters, also 
secured an hour-long interview with then-Jiangsu Party 
Secretary Li Yuanchao (who was promoted to the 
 
SIPDIS 
Politburo immediately after the Congress).  However, 
this was the only high-level interview he secured out 
of numerous requests. 
 
3. (C) Local journalists generally agreed that while 
Party propaganda officials went through the motions of 
media openness, they offered reporters very little of 
substance.  The "unprecedented" access to delegates, 
several contacts told us, amounted to little more than 
listening to a wider array of Party leaders 
robotically praise General Secretary Hu Jintao's 
political report.  Cheng Mingxia (protect), a senior 
reporter at the Economic Observer, told Poloff October 
25 that even though domestic journalists were granted 
entree to more meetings than at previous Party 
Congresses, the reporting they were actually allowed 
to print was so restricted that the greater access did 
not result in better coverage.  Economic Observer 
publisher Zhao Li (protect) told Poloff October 25 
that he had originally wanted to skip covering the 
17th Party Congress altogether.  Domestic reporting of 
the Congress was "meaningless," Zhao lamented.  In the 
end, however, officials in Shandong Province, where 
the Economic Observer is officially headquartered, 
pressured the paper to run articles about the 
Congress.  The Observer thus ran some Xinhua copy plus 
a few of their own editorials, Zhao said. 
 
Press Controls at Least As Tight As 2002 
---------------------------------------- 
 
4. (C) Wang Chong (protect), an international affairs 
columnist for the China Youth Daily, told Poloff 
November 1 that controls on domestic coverage of the 
17th Party Congress were at least as tight, if not 
more so, than they were during the 16th Party Congress 
in 2002.  The extent of these restrictions can be 
seen, Wang said, in the nearly identical front pages 
Chinese newspapers printed October 23, the day after 
the Party unveiled the new nine-member Politburo 
Standing Committee (PBSC).  Nearly every Chinese 
paper, Wang observed, ran "Hu Jintao Elected General 
 
BEIJING 00007035  002 OF 003 
 
 
Secretary" as the top headline.  The Southern 
 
SIPDIS 
Metropolis News (Nanfang Dushi Bao) was the only paper 
to push these limits by inserting some actual news 
into its October 23 headline:  "Still Nine Standing 
Committee Members, Four Are New."  Had Chinese 
journalists been allowed to report the unveiling of 
the new PBSC as a real news event, Wang said, then the 
headlines would have been about the promotion of Xi 
Jinping and Li Keqiang directly to the PBSC thus 
bypassing the regular Politburo. 
 
Caijing Denied Press Credentials 
-------------------------------- 
 
5. (C) While several media contacts have said that 
press credentials for this latest Congress were easier 
to obtain than in the past (Ref A), at least one 
independent-minded publication was left in the cold. 
Huang Shan (protect), International Editor at Caijing 
magazine, told Poloff October 18 that the Party denied 
his magazine's application for press passes.  Caijing 
was shut out, Huang said, even though it was prepared 
to abide by rules that all journalists sent to cover 
the Congress be Party members.  Party officials denied 
Caijing's application on the grounds that, as a for- 
profit publication with no official ties, it was not 
eligible to cover the Congress.  The real reason, 
Huang said, was that propaganda officials worried that 
Caijing, a magazine known for pushing political 
boundaries, would take a unique approach to its 
coverage that would embarrass the Party.  Caijing 
still covered the Congress through cooperative 
arrangements with other publications.  (Comment: Last 
March, as the National People's Congress was preparing 
to pass a controversial private property law, a 
Caijing issue featuring the pending legislation was 
pulled from newsstands.  Although it was never clear 
just what triggered the censorship, it was widely 
believed that government officials did not want to 
aggravate tensions with more Marxist-oriented Party 
members over the legislation.  Caijing was also 
censored for investigative coverage during the 2003 
SARS outbreak. End comment.) 
 
No Tears On CCTV 
----------------- 
 
6. (C) China's domestic media took to heart Party guidance 
that news coverage remain upbeat and that negative 
stories should be avoided (Ref A).  Zhou Qing'an 
(protect), a journalism professor at Tsinghua 
University and frequent editorial writer for the 
Beijing News (Xin Jing Bao), told Poloff October 25 
that some media outlets took these directives against 
negative news to extremes.  Zhou said his friends at 
China Central Television (CCTV) told him that station 
managers had banned all "negative" images from the 
screen.  During the Congress, CCTV would not show 
images of people crying, regardless of the 
circumstances.  Even nature shows depicting animals 
stalking and killing prey were cut because such scenes 
were considered "inharmonious," Zhou said. 
 
Party Happy With International Coverage 
--------------------------------------- 
 
7. (C) Some contacts, however, said that the Party 
Congress media strategy of keeping journalists busy 
with press conferences and junkets (propaganda 
officials took foreign journalists to visit the newly 
constructed National Grand Theater as well as Olympic 
sites) was effective in terms of managing 
international coverage.  Communist Party leaders, Zhou 
Qing'an said, are generally pleased with the 
international coverage of the Congress.  Overall the 
international press was more positive than it was 
during 16th Party Congress in 2002, Zhou commented, 
with more focus on individual leaders and less on 
factional infighting.  Wang Chong said he gives the 
Party Congress Media Center a grade of "90 percent" 
for its management of the international press.  Wang 
agreed with Zhou that international reporting was more 
to the Party's liking than in 2002.  While reporters 
for the Associated Press might have been upset with 
the lack of substance, Wang said, reporters from the 
developing world were generally pleased with the cushy 
treatment they received. 
 
Internet Controls and Baidu Hijacking 
------------------------------------- 
 
 
BEIJING 00007035  003 OF 003 
 
 
8. (C) Contacts were nearly unanimous in their 
assessment that Internet controls were extremely tigt 
during the Congress.  Popular websites scrubed their 
chat rooms of even the most mildly negative or 
sarcastic postings, several of our interlocutors told 
us.  Numerous foreign media outlets reported that on 
October 18 Chinese Internet users conducting searches 
using Yahoo and Google were redirected to the Chinese 
search engine Baidu (Ref B).  While many Beijing-based 
contacts had not heard of these reports, Emboffs 
experienced this hijacking phenomenon first hand both 
in Beijing and in Chengdu.  Freelance journalist Chen 
Jieren (protect) told Poloff on October 23 that 
certain Google searches had indeed been rerouted.  For 
example, typing in "Dalai Lama" would get you 
immediately rerouted to Baidu, with a message that 
"there is no information on your request."  Most 
searches on Google, however, were not interfered with, 
Chen said.  Cheng Mingxia, of the Economic Observer, 
told Poloff that Baidu has a bad reputation among 
journalists because of its alleged kowtowing to 
Chinese authorities.  For example, she said, a Baidu 
search of former Party Secretary Jiang Zemin reveals 
nothing but fawning news pieces.  Baidu, Cheng said, 
actually gets more freedom because of its close 
relationship with the Chinese Government and thus is 
the best search engine for searches using Chinese 
characters.  Google remains the best for English 
searches, Cheng said. 
 
"Depressing" State of Press Freedom 
----------------------------------- 
 
9. (C) Li Dun (protect), a professor at Tsinghua 
University's Center for the Study of Contemporary 
China, told Poloff October 24 that the tight media 
controls surrounding the Congress were expected but 
"depressing" nonetheless.  Li commented that no 
information about internal Party deliberations was 
revealed in the media and China's press was devoid of 
any real news during the Congress.  "Even at the very 
end, nobody knew for sure if the Standing Committee 
would have nine or seven members," Li said, "why must 
all of this be kept so secret?"  This information 
control has had a dampening effect on public and 
academic debate about policy directions China should 
take, Li added.  Liu Junning (protect), a pro- 
democracy scholar at the Cathay Institute for Public 
Affairs, told Poloff October 22 that he and other 
liberal academics have had great difficulty in recent 
months publishing "sensitive" articles, particularly 
dealing with democracy and rule of law, as a result of 
the Congress.  However, Liu said that even though 
press controls remain tight, the Party has lost much 
of its ability to set the public agenda.  The 
Communist Party can still control what is covered in 
the media, Liu said, "but they cannot dictate what 
people care about."  Wang Chong, of China Youth Daily, 
echoed this point, noting that the wider array of 
media options now makes it easier for Chinese to tune 
out Party Congress propaganda.  "Rather than watch 
CCTV coverage of the Congress," Wang said, "people can 
now just switch to one of the 60 other channels 
available." 
Randt 

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