Two Chinese officials were apparently surprised by reporters’ confrontational questions during the Two Sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference despite the Central Propaganda Department having issued a list of “forbidden” topics.
One high profile official who found himself in an awkward position by a reporter’s blunt question was Bo Xilai, the infamous Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Committee Secretary of Chongqing City.
Bo has recently risen to near-superstardom and was named “Man of the Year” by a People's Daily online poll for his work in initiating the controversial “hitting the black” campaign against organized crime. The campaign resulted in over 3,000 arrests. Critics, however, view his campaign as unconstitutional and reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
According to a March 7 report by Radio France Internationale, a reporter from Taiwan’s Eastern Television (ETTV) asked Bo during the March 6 press conference, “Did you initiate the “hitting the black” campaign to get political capital and earn yourself membership in the Standing Committee at the CCP’s 18th National Congress?”
Bo appeared stunned and paused for quite some time before responding. “This is not the appropriate occasion for a publicity stunt,” he said.
He then went on to lecture the journalists at the scene, saying they should not be turning this into a show.
Following this exchange, the press officer no longer allowed any Taiwan reporters to ask questions.
Mainland reporters gasped at the Taiwanese reporter’s question. According to a reporter who was at the scene, a staff person from Bo’s Chongqing delegation immediately rushed out of the conference hall and questioned the people at the door, asking who had arranged that reporter and why he was allowed to ask such a question.
The second incident involved Li Hongzhong, the governor of Hubei Province. Li appeared upset and yelled at a People’s Daily reporter.
Several journalists reported the event on Facebook and Twitter on March 7.
According to their account, a female reporter asked Li a question amidst a noisy crowd. The question was said to be related to the high profile rape case of Deng Yujiao , the waitress who stabbed a party cadre to death and injured another who attempted to rape her in a Hubei hotel last year. Although Deng was cleared of murder charges as a result of public pressure, she soon disappeared and is said to be confined in a mental hospital.
Li suddenly appeared overcome by rage and shouted at the reporter, “Which media do you represent?”
The reporter replied, “People’s Daily.”
Li reportedly became even more angry: “Are you really from the People’s Daily—asking a question like this! And you are the CCP’s mouthpiece? How do you guide public opinion? What is your name? I will talk to your boss.”
According to a report by China's online Business News on March 8, Li grabbed the digital recorder of the reporter, whose name was Liu Jie, a reporter from the Beijing Times, a subsidiary of People’s Daily.
Banned Media Topics
Radio France Internationale reported on March 6 that during the Two Sessions, the Central Propaganda Department continued to exert strict control over negative coverage and issued a number of “propaganda bans.”
For example, news coverage of the election law during the Two Sessions and news regarding the Hainan toxic-cowpea scandal can only be distributed using copy from Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, and official Hainan media, respectively.
Reporting about petitioners making appeals during the Two Sessions is discouraged, as is news about the joint editorial from 13 media calling for reform of the household registration system.
Negative news cannot be published on the first page of the newspaper, and news on the following subjects cannot be reported at all: demands for officials to report their assets; the naming of the Southern Weekly editor as one of ‘top ten people of the year’ abroad; and all sightings or information about Udumbara flowers. (The Udumbara is a tiny flower often mentioned in legends and said to bloom only once every 3,000 years when a great sage appears on earth. There have recently been numerous sightings throughout China and Asia.)