Beijing censors media, fearing 1989 reminder

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2011, 12:00am

Mainland censors have cleansed state-controlled newspapers, television, internet portals and microblogs of any mention of the Egyptian unrest, with the authorities fearing the uprising could fuel calls for reform at home.

Reporters and editors from major newspapers in Beijing and Guangdong say they have been told to strictly follow a ban on reporting the Egyptian unrest and are only allowed to use reports written by Xinhua.

Most mainland media have only reported that China will use chartered flights to evacuate stranded tourists from Egypt, as well as a statement from a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that the central government hopes Egypt will soon restore order.

No photographs or video footage of the bloody street protests and army tanks in Cairo's Tahrir Square have been allowed to be published or aired, with the authorities fearing it could remind the public of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Keyword searches containing the words 'Egypt' or 'Tunisia' on the mainland's booming microblogs returned no results and the system alerted users that 'according to related laws, regulations and policies, the search results can't be displayed'. Government mouthpiece China Central Television only aired Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meeting top officials on yesterday's news round-up, without mentioning any protests on Cairo's streets.

On Sunday, its news round-up aired a 30-second clip about Mubarak naming a new vice-president and prime minister.

It is a sharp contrast with its reporting two weeks ago on the revolt in Tunisia which led to the removal of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14.

Although CCTV's news round-up emphasised that calm had returned to Tunisia with a new interim government, it broadcast some footage of street protests there.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the ban suggested the central government was worried that any reporting of the Egyptian unrest would encourage people dissatisfied with the ruling Communist Party to take to the streets.

'It's clear that the mainland government fears that wide coverage of the Egyptian and Tunisian unrest will cause a domino effect for China,' said Choy, adding that the revolution in Tunisia had triggered the uprising in Egypt.

'Mainland censors have showed excessive nervousness on many social issues in recent years, fearing any single incident could be a blasting fuse and trigger potential unrest.'

Professor Zhan Jiang, from Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the mainland propaganda authorities had described the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt as 'turmoil'.

'Of course, Chinese people would have their own opinion if they were allowed to watch footage about Egyptian street protests,' Zhan said.