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China orders tech firms to ramp up censorship
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) July 20, 2017

China's banned books fade from Hong Kong
Hong Kong (AFP) July 20, 2017 - The annual Hong Kong book fair has always been a source of politically sensitive titles banned in China, but this year fewer were on display as the city faces growing pressure under an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Several publishing houses were still displaying controversial books at the harbourfront convention centre as part of a fair that attracts more than a million visitors over six days.

But the number has shrunk since the disappearance of five city booksellers who worked for a publisher specialising in salacious titles about Chinese political leaders.

They vanished almost two years ago and resurfaced on the mainland, where one still remains in custody.

Since then, mainstream bookstores in Hong Kong have removed titles likely to offend Chinese authorities and smaller producers have shied away from rocking the boat.

It comes as many fear that Beijing is tightening it's grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong and threatening its cherished freedoms.

Greenfield Bookstore has long sold banned works at the book fair and this year displayed titles about late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

But a store manager who identified himself only as Mr Tam estimated the overall number of politically sensitive books on sale across the fair was down as much as 70 percent.

"There are less of these books coming out. Some of the smaller and independent companies, they haven't come back," he told AFP.

Hong Kong book store owner Paul Tang said that production of gossipy books on Chinese leaders has seen a significant decline since the disappearance of the five booksellers.

Mainland customers who used to travel over the border to snap them up have also stayed away, he said.

"A lot of publishers are self censoring and afraid to produce more books," Tang told AFP.

Flipping through a title about late Nobel laureate Liu at the Greenfield stall, housewife Wincy Chan said she was disappointed the book fair did not address the elephant in the room -- Liu's death last week in Chinese custody.

"They are avoiding the topic with the theme of travel," said Chan, in her 50s, referring to the fair's focus this year.

Chan said she was worried politically sensitive books would not be available in the future.

But some hope a new wave of writers and satirists will keep the political debate alive.

At the stall belonging to 100 Most, a lifestyle magazine also known for its irreverent take on Hong Kong and Chinese politics, titles included student protest leader Joshua Wong's memoirs and a book about the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.

Book-lover Matthew Mok who was browsing the stall said taking a lighthearted approach could be a solution.

"You can't directly talk about things that the Communist Party finds sensitive -- you need a funny way of going into the topic to make the books attractive," Mok, 17, said.

China has ordered the country's biggest technology firms to immediately "rectify" violations and shut accounts that publish "bad information", in the latest move by authorities to tighten policing of the web.

The Cyberspace Administration of China said it held a meeting this week with representatives from domestic tech giants Baidu, Sohu, Tencent, Netease and Phoenix to inform them of multiple violations in content published on their platforms.

The offences listed Wednesday by the authorities included misinterpreting policy directives, disseminating false information, distorting Chinese Communist Party history, plagiarising photos, and challenging public order.

The companies must "immediately ... carry out special cleaning and rectification" in order to adhere to regulations, the CAC said in a statement.

China tightly controls the internet through a censorship system known as the "Great Firewall" and closely monitors social media networks for sensitive content.

Regulations in force since 2000 say websites are responsible for "ensuring the legality of any information" posted on their platforms.

The CAC provided several examples of problems in articles published by independent media accounts on domestic social media platforms.

This included a post on Baidu's Baijia platform that said the government's policies on real estate were to blame for a rise in housing prices, which the CAC called an "irresponsible attack".

The CAC also slammed Tencent for allowing the release of an article titled, "a Chinese warplane crashed on a US aircraft carrier, killing three US soldiers?", which turned out to be a plot from a television show.

New regulations that came into force on June 1 require online platforms to get a licence to post news reports or commentary about the government, economy, military, foreign affairs, and social issues.

In other recent moves, authorities have closed dozens of celebrity gossip blogs and issued new rules around online video content to eliminate programmes deemed offensive.

Since the death of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo last week, censors have been working in overdrive to scrub any tributes to the democracy activist.

Both keywords and images associated with Liu have been blocked across all major social media platforms in China, according to analysts.

The scope of censorship related to Liu expanded greatly after his death, a report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto found.

"His death (is) the first time we see image filtering in one-to-one chat, in addition to image filtering in group chats," the report said.

But Chinese activists who have access to virtual private network (VPN) software, which allows people to circumvent the Great Firewall, have posted tributes to Liu on Twitter and Facebook in recent days, including photos of memorials next to bodies of water, since his ashes were scattered at sea.

'Oh, bother': Chinese censors can't bear Winnie the Pooh
Beijing (AFP) July 17, 2017
Has Winnie the Pooh done something to anger China's censors? Some mentions of the lovable but dimwitted bear with a weakness for "hunny" have been blocked on Chinese social networks. Authorities did not explain the clampdown, but the self-described "bear of very little brain" has been used in the past in a meme comparing him to portly Chinese President Xi Jinping. Posts bearing the image ... read more

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