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Viewing cable 07BEIJING7035, OPEN BUT NOT TRANSPARENT: LOCAL REPORTERS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07BEIJING7035 2007-11-08 10:10 2010-12-04 18:06 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beijing
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.  XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX

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.  XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX 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.  XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect) told Poloff XXXXXXXXXXXX
that he had originally wanted to skip covering the
17th Party Congress altogether.  Domestic reporting of
the Congress was "meaningless," XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX

Press Controls at Least As Tight As 2002
----------------------------------------

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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.

XXXXXXXXXXXX
--------------------------------

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.XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX

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).  XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff XXXXXXXXXXXX
that some media outlets took these directives against
negative news to extremes.  XXXXXXXXXXXX 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," XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX commented,
with more focus on individual leaders and less on
factional infighting.  XXXXXXXXXXXX said he gives the
Party Congress Media Center a grade of "90 percent"
for its management of the international press.  XXXXXXXXXXXX
agreed with XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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.  XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect) told Poloff on XXXXXXXXXXXX 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,
XXXXXXXXXXXX said.  XXXXXXXXXXXX
told Poloff that Baidu has a bad reputation among
journalists because of its alleged kowtowing to
Chinese authorities.  For example, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, a Baidu
search of former Party Secretary Jiang Zemin reveals
nothing but fawning news pieces.  Baidu, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX said.

"Depressing" State of Press Freedom
-----------------------------------

9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff XXXXXXXXXXXX that the tight media
controls surrounding the Congress were expected but
"depressing" nonetheless.  XXXXXXXXXXXX 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," XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, "but they cannot dictate what
people care about."  XXXXXXXXXXXX
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," XXXXXXXXXXXX said, "people can
now just switch to one of the 60 other channels
available."
Randt