It was practically a news story that wrote itself. Soon after president Obama made a roundabout endorsement of non-censorship, it was reported via twitter and then repeated by the China Digial Times that China pulled the coverage from news portal NetEase 27 minutes after the transcript appeared.
The Associated Press went with a title “Chinese censors block Obama’s call to free the Web“.
One prolific blogger who goes by the name of Hecaitou said that a transcript of the exchange posted on the portal Netease was taken down by censors after just 27 minutes. A full Chinese-language transcript of the event was later posted on the official Xinhua News Agency Web site but required four clicks to locate the relevant section.
The Washington Post also chimed in with “Obama backs non-censorship; Beijing, apparently, does not“.
The question, and Obama’s answer, appeared almost immediately as a top news story on the official New China News Agency, known here as Xinhua, as well on as several popular Chinese Web sites.
But about an hour later, the stories about Obama embracing Internet freedom disappeared.
The sina.com site, for example, initially ran the story under the headline: “Obama: The Internet is a tool for becoming stronger and citizens can participate.” An hour later, anyone going to that link got the message, “Cannot find the page.”
The news was also deleted from Xinhua, which initially posted a story about Obama’s answer on Internet censorship but later carried a notice that said, “Sorry! The news you are checking has been deleted or expired.”
The Reuters similarly reported it with “Obama visit arouses mistrust in China’s Internet populace“.
Last but not the least, BBC wasn’t far behind with “Obama’s message censored in China“. [UPDATE] Raj argued in the comment section that this BBC article didn’t contain the same level of empirical inexactitude as the other three reports. He is right, and I just crossed out this one. Actually, I added this BBC link a very short while after I already published this post. I was doing a last scan of the Google News and thought, “Gee, the BBC is also doing this!” So I confess that in my haste, I committed precisely the same sin that I didn’t accuse those reporters for the other three media outlets of making.
As noted at the beginning of this post, it sounded like a perfect China news story, or was it too perfect? Roland Soong at ESWN posted a copy of Xinhua’s transcript found at NetEase and simply commented “You can click on it to see if these remarks are still available now”. Well, I decided to take up the challenge.
The above image is a cropped screen capture of the NetEase front page. The text marked by the red rectangle links to a transcript of Obama’s interaction with the Chinese students in Shanghai, complete and uncensored.
As for People’s Daily, I couldn’t find a direct link to the transcript on its special coverage page after a casual scan. The reason, I suppose, is because the editors thought Obama’s discourse on information freedom was an IT related topic. So an article entirely devoted to that question of Internet usage and Obama’s complete answer is placed on the site’s IT Channel front page, as shown below.
I won’t bore you further with links to a large number of Chinese media sites, national or local, that prominently carry coverage of Obama’s interactive session. So, what gives?
Hmm, I could list some possible answers.
- A. The reporters, when it comes to reporting on China, feel no need to verify their single source of hearsay.
- B. One reporter rushed out a report without doing homework and others copied it.
- C. The reporters do not know Chinese and their favorite sinologists were too busy to read anything for them.
- D. The reporters do not know Chinese and their Chinese interns are all spies sent over by the CCP.
- E. The Chinese propaganda machine set up these reporters by faking a censorship stunt and then flooding the net with candid reports.
- F. The Chinese propaganda machine is extremely efficient and responded to the unfavorable news coverage aboard immediately and effectively.
- G. All Chinese websites serve two sets of pages, depending on whether the queries come from within or without.
Obviously, the correct answer must have been one of more choices among C, D, E, F and G. As we all know, any other suggestion is simply inconceivable.