Chinese Editor Reveals Twists and Turns of Obama Interview

November 22, 2009 Updated: November 22, 2009

HONG KONG—An exclusive interview with President Obama by a Chinese newspaper was censored by propaganda officials, according Hong Kong’s “Apply Daily.”

Sensitive topics such as human rights and freedom of the press were removed from the original interview conducted by “Southern Weekend,” the Nov. 20 Daily report said.

Southern Weekend, though it is state-owned, is one of the more influential and liberal papers in China. They interviewed Obama during his four-day and three-night visit to China without previous sanction from propaganda officials, according to the report.

After the interview, all national press and Internet coverage of the report was banned by the Central Propaganda Department, a secretive and powerful agency that reports directly to top CCP leaders and maintains sweeping powers over Chinese media.

A watered-down version of the interview was published in the Southern Weekend, however, after pressure from U.S. ambassador in China Jon Huntsman, the Daily said. A Southern Weekend employee said that it was very late by the time the propaganda officials gave them permission to publish.
The employee of Southern Weekend interviewed by Apple Daily said the authorities “could not accept” Obama talking about human rights and other sensitive issues.

The senior editor of Southern Weekend, Yan Lieshan, said he was surprised Obama accepted an interview with his paper, and not other major state-run media, such as Xinhua, People’s Daily, or CCTV, which are all official mouthpieces of CCP leadership.

“This was an unexpected event,” Yan said in an interview with New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV).

“The United States and China have a collaborative relationship. When Hilary Clinton came here, human rights were never mentioned. This time they used the soft tactic of addressing China’s freedom of speech, talking about the Internet firewall issue in Shanghai, and accepting an interview with Southern Weekend. These [actions] were just a political gesture, a gesture to the U.S. and the world, and a small indication to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that they are still concerned about these issues.”

Yan declined to say whether the interview touched on democracy and human rights. “I can’t answer these questions. We have rules and can’t disclose the interview process.”

Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Central Propaganda Department got involved after the interview, Yan said, describing this as “normal.”

“If you understand the situation in China, you would understand that this is not just a matter of a simple interview, but a major diplomatic incident,” he said.

“We are also one of the groups of papers under the Party, and are led by the Party,” he said, explaining that the Southern Metropolitan newspapers group, of which Southern Weekend is a part, is an official media of the provincial government.

He noted that the Southern Weekend has previously been “purged” of editorial staff for reporting issues that other state-run media haven’t touched.

Read the original Chinese article.