The Chinese government censors social media in both written and visual form, but the latest scene is part of a larger trend with CNN as a case in point.
On Tuesday, an unauthorised Hong Kong television station began airing a new CNN news program focused on one of China’s most popular singers, Peng Shuai. This week, Peng’s name disappeared from CNN stories but not from other Chinese internet news sites.
First, some background.
CNN launched a country-level live studio earlier this year in Beijing, staffed by foreign correspondents and covering China’s social media and digital space.
The reporter seen in the social media media posts is Zhao Hongbo, a Chinese-American who appeared to have befriended Peng through social media, according to a report Monday in the South China Morning Post. He said he works in CCTV’s (Chinese state-run) bureau in Hong Kong.
Peng is best known in China as a singer, and when the report was first posted to CNN’s website on Monday morning, it read, “CNN’s Dayside show airs exclusive interview with the iconic entertainer Peng Shuai .”
As of Tuesday morning, CNN’s story about Peng had disappeared from the site, replaced by a graphic saying the story was “showed in non-English version.”
CNN spokeswoman Emily MacDonald said in an email, “CNN and CNN International routinely apply a specialized filtering system to our site to comply with local laws and regulations in all countries where we operate. In this instance, we published an unauthorised excerpt of our story about the TV series about the Chinese opera singer Peng Shuai.”
“As soon as we were made aware of the story, we blocked the video and informed our readers that our story had been updated and posted in its original form.”
Zhao declined to comment.
The image appears to have disappeared from the Chinese Twitter network Weibo but appears to have started trending Tuesday on WeChat, which people use to share photos, links and other information.
The video was deleted from the Hong Kong online TV station Tomorrow TV, but could be found again Tuesday afternoon on China’s state-run Alibaba, according to a report by China Digital Times.
That report notes that the real-time censorship on Weibo did not apply to photos or text that mentioned CNN’s Hong Kong correspondent, but did not mention his name.