Phoenix New Media, a U.S.-listed company, was shut down on Sept. 26 by Chinese regime censors, marking the third time in a year the Hong Kong-based firm has been blocked in mainland China because of “illegal” content.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) charged Phoenix’s Ifeng.com with spreading “illegal and bad information, [running] distorted and misrepresented headlines, and forwarding news information in violation of regulations” and ordered the news portal to subject itself to “thorough and in-depth rectification.” The CAC didn’t provide any details about the violation.
Founded in 1996, Phoenix TV has a broadly pro-Beijing stance, while presenting itself as an independent voice by occasionally reporting on sensitive topics, such as food- and drug-safety scandals. Its founder, Liu Changle, was a former propaganda officer in the People’s Liberation Army; he’s also held a position at a Communist Party-controlled radio station.
As part of the “rectification,” Phoenix’s general news, financial news, information channels, mobile website, and app will be suspended for two weeks, effective Sept. 26; Phoenix’s tech channel will go dark for one month.
This most recent suspension was announced one week after Zhuang Rongwen, the CAC’s new director, began a drive to further strengthen Party control over the internet.
While media organizations in Hong Kong generally enjoy broad latitude from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors, the station is regarded as a de-facto mouthpiece for Beijing.
China expert Sarah Cook, of the Freedom House human-rights group, said in 2017 U.S. congressional testimony that Phoenix TV is “an example of a Chinese propaganda outlet not directly owned by the Beijing government.” At the time of Cook’s statements, the Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV, had a 10-percent stake in Phoenix.
In particular, Phoenix TV is aligned with the political clique of former CCP boss Jiang Zemin, who exercised significant influence over the Party, even after stepping down from his post in 2002.
Liu, the station’s founder, is a close friend of former CCP official Bo Xilai, an associate and ally of Jiang whose dramatic fall from his post in 2012 prefaced the ascension of current Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Bo is now serving a life sentence for corruption and other crimes, and thousands of officials connected to Jiang have been purged in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.
It’s the third time in the past year that Phoenix’s media network has been ordered by the CCP to carry out “rectification.”
On Dec. 29, 2017, the State Internet Information Office of the CCP directed the Beijing Internet Information Office to order Phoenix to suspend and “rectify” because of improper headlines, pornographic and obscene messages present on the Phoenix News mobile client portal, and online news that was deemed to have violated state regulations.
On April 9, the Phoenix News app was again ordered to “rectify” and its operations were suspended for two weeks.