Wall Street Journal Chinese denies self-censorship

Earlier today, we broke the news that Reuters Chinese and WSJ Chinese were practicing self-censorship concerning the Hong Kong democracy protests. While we have not yet heard back from Reuters, we have received vehement denial from WSJ Chinese editor Li Yuan and WSJ editor-in-chief Gerard Baker via Twitter.

Li Yuan asked via Twitter whether we at GreatFire.org were aware that WSJ had been blocked in China for four months (the implication being that because the website is already blocked, they have no reason to self-censor). It appears that she did not take the time to read our report at all before commenting.

@niubi If you don't read Chinese, call me to check your facts. ChineseWSJ has been blocked in China for 4 months; @GreatFireChina Do U know?

— Li Yuan (@LiYuan6) September 29, 2014

Here’s the quote from our report which is the second paragraph of the article:

In November 2013, China blocked WSJ Chinese and Reuters Chinese for a few days. The act was meant to intimidate both companies and to warn them that they have to keep their content in line with Beijing. WSJ Chinese was subsequently blocked for good in June 2014 after the site posted multiple news items related to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests on the website’s front page. Reuters Chinese did not post anything related to the June anniversary and remained unblocked.

You may recall that Bloomberg has been accused of curbing articles that might anger China after their site was blocked in China and the company received pressure from the Chinese government over their business operations in the country.

The main purpose of our website GreatFire.org is to test what internet websites are being blocked in China. We automatically test the Great Firewall of China and update a list of blocked websites in real time. We also keep an eye on developments related to censorship in China.

Li Yuan also provided a list of articles about Hong Kong and featured one article covering the protest. That one article was published after our original report. 

@GreatFireChina Please run a correction/clarification or you can retweet my previous tweet with photo. pic.twitter.com/ZzLKKKhZdK

— Li Yuan (@LiYuan6) September 29, 2014

We have updated our original report to reflect this:

Update on Sept 29, 8:30 AM Hong Kong time:

After we published our article which was widely reposted, Wall Street Jounal Chinese posted itsfirst news covering the actual protest, dated September 29 at 7:54AM Hong Kong time. Because WSJ Chinese published the "news" about 24 hours* after the start of the protest and its first English language report, we believe that WSJ Chinese is trying to save its image after being publicly called out for self-censorship. Still, we welcome the change. At least WSJ Chinese readers now know about the protest in Hong Kong - better late than never.  In comparison, Reuters Chinese has not posted any news covering the protest even now.

*SCMP started to live report the protest on September 28 at 8AM. WSJ's report in English was dated September 28 at 6:08AM. (Hong Kong time).

The remaining stories that Li referenced do not actually cover the protest itself. For example, the first article on the list is dated September 9th and is titled “Occupy Central planned for October”.

Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of WSJ (Not WSJ Chinese) also tweeted about our accusations.

@JamesFallows @iandenisjohnson Oh I see! That justifies the two of you taking to Twitter to so casually impugn our integrity, doesn't it?

— Gerard Baker (@gerardtbaker) September 29, 2014

@JamesFallows @iandenisjohnson Rather than, say, checking to see whether, just for example, our website has actually been blocked in China?

— Gerard Baker (@gerardtbaker) September 29, 2014

Again, we believe that we are experts when it comes to the Great Firewall of China. In fact, WSJ itself has regularly quoted us as an anti-censorship activist group in China. Baker should also at least read our original report before denying it.

Some users and internal WSJ staff have suspected that a shortage of staff on a Sunday before a holiday might be the cause of delaying translation. The time gap between the English article, attributed to ISABELLA STEGER, PRUDENCE HO and CHESTER YUNG, and the Chinese article, attributed to the same reporters, is 25 hours and 46 minutes. This time delay might be reasonable for average stories but for news that grabbed headlines around the world, on virtually every media outlet, this delay is simply unbelievable.

In addition, in the past, when WSJ Chinese has been translating important news, they usually post a short blurb together with the comment “detailed report will follow”. We have provided an example below. According to Google, there are 83,500 incidences where WSJ Chinese has posted the translation of the title of the story and posted content in a separate article when the translation is complete. Is this story really not more important that 83,500 others?


We want WSJ Chinese to explain why it takes more than 25 hours to translate a sentence into Chinese or give any other reason why a report is being delayed despite the fact that it is the most important news item of the day.

WSJ Chinese has publicly denounced self-censorship and we applaud their stance on the matter. But we also hope that their actions echo their sentiment - in this case, they do not. Reuters China has remained silent on the self-censorship issue, which is self-censorship in itself.

Reuters China posted its first report about the Hong Kong protest on Monday, September 29 at 11:30am, 30 hours later than WSJ English’s first report.

Even so, we welcome the addition of this Chinese language content. We’ve again reached out to both media publications to hear their side of the story. If this is truly an issue about being understaffed, then this raises serious questions about the management of these two news organizations. Your peers all published timely stories about the Hong Kong protests in Chinese. Advertisers will likely notice - they know that breaking news drives eyeballs.

We also know that journalists are under enormous amounts of stress and we respect the fact that both WSJ and Reuters have reporters on the ground, putting themselves in danger to report this story. But why make such an effort if the fruits of that labor become evident more than 24 hours after the event for the audience that deserves to hear this story the most? Here's hoping that your best Chinese language coverage of the Hong Kong protests is yet to come.

Very proud of my colleague Tyrone Siu who took this amazing photo of HK protesters being tear gassed on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/jUGkGfAeww

— Venus Wu (@wu_venus) September 29, 2014


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Thu, Aug 10, 2023

1.4 million people used FreeBrowser to circumvent the Great Firewall of Turkmenistan

Since 2021, the authorities in Turkmenistan have taken exceptional measures to crack down on the use of circumvention tools. Citizens have been forced to swear on the Koran that they will not use a VPN. Circumvention tool websites have been systematically blocked. Arbitrary searches of mobile devices have also taken place and have even targeted school children and teachers.

The government has also blocked servers hosting VPNs which led to “near complete” internet shutdowns on several occasions in 2022. Current reports indicate that 66 hosting providers, 19 social networks and messaging platforms, and 10 leading content delivery networks (CDNs), are blocked in the country. The government presumably is unconcerned about the negative economic impact that such shutdowns can cause.

Fri, Mar 18, 2022

Well-intentioned decisions have just made it easier for Putin to control the Russian Internet

This article is in large part inspired by a recent article from Meduza (in Russian).

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian users have had problems accessing government websites and online banking clients. Browsers began to mark these sites as unsafe and drop the connection. The reason is the revocation of digital security certificates by foreign certificate authorities (either as a direct consequence of sanctions or as an independent, good will move); without them, browsers do not trust sites and “protect” their users from them.

However, these actions, caused - or at least triggered by - a desire to punish Russia for their gruesome actions in Ukraine, will have long-lasting consequences for Russian netizens.

Digital certificates are needed to confirm that the site the user wants to visit is not fraudulent. The certificates contain encryption keys to establish a secure connection between the site and the user. It is very easy to understand whether a page on the Internet is protected by a certificate. One need just look at the address bar of the browser. If the address begins with the https:// prefix, and there is a lock symbol next to the address, the page is protected. By clicking on this lock, you can see the status of the connection, the name of the Certification Authority (CA) that issued the certificate, and its validity period.

There are several dozen commercial and non-commercial organizations in the world that have digital root certificates, but 3/4 of all certificates are issued by only five of the largest companies. Four of them are registered in the USA and one is registered in Belgium.

Mon, Aug 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire AppMaker

GreatFire (https://en.greatfire.org/), a China-focused censorship monitoring organization, is proud to announce that we have developed and released a new anti-censorship tool that will enable any blocked media outlet, blogger, human rights group, or civil society organization to evade censors and get their content onto the phones of millions of readers and supporters in China and other countries that censor the Internet.

GreatFire has built an Android mobile app creator, called “GreatFire AppMaker”, that can be used by organizations to unblock their content for users in China and other countries. Organizations can visit a website (https://appmaker.greatfire.org/) which will compile an app that is branded with the organization’s own logo and will feature their own, formerly blocked content. The app will also contain a special, censorship-circumventing web browser so that users can access the uncensored World Wide Web. The apps will use multiple strategies, including machine learning, to evade advanced censorship tactics employed by the Chinese authorities.  This project will work equally well in other countries that have China-like censorship restrictions. For both organizations and end users, the apps will be free, fast, and extremely easy to use.

This project was inspired by China-based GreatFire’s first-hand experience with our own FreeBrowser app (https://freebrowser.org/en) and desire to help small NGOs who may not have the in-house expertise to circumvent Chinese censorship. GreatFire’s anti-censorship tools have worked in China when others do not. FreeBrowser directs Chinese internet users to normally censored stories from the app’s start page (http://manyvoices.news/).

Fri, Jul 24, 2020

Apple, anticompetition, and censorship

On July 20, 2020, GreatFire wrote to all 13 members of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, requesting a thorough examination into Apple’s practice of censorship of its App Store, and an investigation into how the company collaborates with the Chinese authorities to maintain its unique position as one of the few foreign tech companies operating profitably in the Chinese digital market.  

This letter was sent a week before Apple CEO TIm Cook will be called for questioning in front of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. The CEOs of Amazon, Google and Facebook will also be questioned on July 27, as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into competition in the digital marketplace.

This hearing offers an opportunity to detail to the Subcommittee how Apple uses its closed operating ecosystem to not only abuse its market position but also to deprive certain users, most notably those in China, of their right to download and use apps related to privacy, secure communication, and censorship circumvention.

We hope that U.S. House representatives agree with our view that Apple should not be allowed to do elsewhere what would be considered as unacceptable in the U.S. Chinese citizens are not second class citizens. Private companies such as Apple compromise themselves and their self-proclaimed values of freedom and privacy when they collaborate with the Chinese government and its censors.

Mon, Jun 10, 2019

Apple Censoring Tibetan Information in China

Apple has a long history of censorship when it comes to information about Tibet. In 2009, it was revealed that several apps related to the Dalai Lama were not available in the China App Store. The developers of these apps were not notified that their apps were removed. When confronted with these instances of censorship, an Apple spokesperson simply said that the company “continues to comply with local laws”.

In December, 2017, at a conference in China, when asked about working with the Chinese authorities to censor the Apple App Store, Tim Cook proclaimed:

"Your choice is: do you participate, or do you stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be. And my own view very strongly is you show up and you participate, you get in the arena because nothing ever changes from the sideline."

In the ten years since Apple was first criticized for working with the Chinese authorities to silence already marginalized voices, what has changed? Apple continues to strictly follow the censorship orders of the Chinese authorities. When does Tim Cook expect that his company will help to bring about positive change in China?

Based on data generated from https://applecensorship.com, Apple has now censored 29 popular Tibetan mobile applications in the China App Store. Tibetan-themed apps dealing with news, religious study, tourism, and even games are being censored by Apple. A full list of the censored apps appear below.

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