All 200 million users of Weibo received a message detailing the suspension of two micro-bloggers alleged to have spread false rumours.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Jeremy Goldkorn, founder and editor-in-chief of website Danwei, an internet and media website in China
GOLDKORN: It started in 2009, in fact just after Twitter was blocked by the Chinese government. It's very similar to Twitter, although in some ways better. It's much easier to leave comments on other peoples Tweets and upload photos and video. It very quickly became the leading Twitter-type service 150 to may be 220 million users depending on whom you believe. It has become the place where news breaks, so, for example, recently there was a train wreck on a high speed, train network near Wenzhou, and the news first came out on Weibo and most of the criticism of the government was initially being done on Weibo.
COCHRANE: Now, the message sent out recently doesn't in fact refer to the train crash which was a very high profile event and did attract some criticism, but to the accused killing of a 19 year-old woman and one of the alleged rumours was that the man accused of it was set free after his politically powerful father intervened. The other alleged rumour was the Red Cross Society of China selling blood at a profit. Were these big issues?
GOLDKORN: The first one in itself wasn't a big issue, except that cases like this have happened before in China. That one was quite strange, because nobody I knew had ever heard of this so-called rumour until we got the message telling us not to spread it. The second one is a big issue, because corruption at the Red Cross of China has been an ongoing problem and earlier in the year, there was a big scandal, because a young lady by the name of Guo Mei Mei was showing off on Weibo itself about her Mazarrati and her many handbags and cars and she said that she was the general manager of an organisation associated with the Red Cross and they've been many other scandals of the Red Cross in China.
COCHRANE: Asides from this specific message warning Weibo uses, the Twitter-like service, not to spread rumours. Can you tell us about other moves recently to control the media in China?
GOLDKORN: Well, the Communist Party secretary of Beijing recently visited Weibo and this was before the anti-rumour message went out and a very clear signal that the government would like Weibo to rein itself in. The last three years have seen quite a tightened environment for the media in China. From 2003 to 2008, I think it was the sense that every year it was a little bit looser, a little bit more room for the media to play. But the last few years, it's been the opposite, particularly this year. The uprisings in the Arab world and somebody's apparent attempt, complete failure, but apparent attempt to start a similar Jasmine Revolution in China seemed to have spooked the authorities and it resulted in a clampdown on media, on the internet and as well as on activists and lawyers and journalists.
COCHRANE: In some ways, I'm not sure that we realise the extent of that clampdown post the attempted Jasmine revolution. How was it living in China? You're based in Beijing. How was the sense of that clampdown?
GOLDKORN: Well, it depends what you do and who you know and what you follow. If you are an ordinary Chinese worker or white collar office worker who doesn't pay attention to these things, you may not have noticed anything at all. So for a lot of people they wouldn't have noticed. But if you pay attention to rights activists, to journalists, particularly investigative journalists and to culture, you would have noticed. Ai Wei Wei was detained for three months and has now been let go, but silenced and is not under house arrest, but severely his movements are restricted was the most prominent case. It was very well known outside of China. But the same type of thing has been happening to many other people.
COCHRANE: How does this affect your own operation? You have a web magazine that publishes in English and links to other articles as well, how has it affected you?
GOLDKORN: Well, our original web site at danwei.org was in fact blocked in 2009 and we've had some trouble in the last six months. I expect a little less trouble, because we've changed the format for a kind of slower publishing schedule and a little less newsy, but it's quite difficult to tell. The environment is not particularly good for publishing at the moment in China or internet.