Did the Chinese Government Crack Down on an Obama Interview?

By Dotcomabc

Nov 20, 2009 6:51am

Jake Tapper and Clarissa Ward report:

First the Chinese government refused to broadcast live on state-run television President Obama's town hall meeting with university students in Shanghai.

Now some US media are saying the government is blocking access to an interview President Obama did in Beijing with the relatively progressive newspaper Southern Weekly, which in the past has pushed the limits of Chinese censors' delicate sensibilities with actual journalism.

It's true that the Chinese government was less than delighted with the president sitting for an interview with Southern Weekly, especially considering Mr. Obama's refusal to grant one to state-run news agency Xinhua or China Central Television.

But after that it gets complicated.

While the New York Times reported  that the page of Southern Weekly "that contained the interview was missing from the edition delivered to Western news outlets in Beijing," the interview was in the edition of the Southern Weekly delivered to the offices of ABC News' China bureau.

The Los Angeles Times noted  that "the official online edition of the newspaper had no coverage of the event."

That's true if you look for page two at this electronic edition of the newspaper  — but not if you look at this electronic edition of the newspaper.

The interview itself — published on the White House Web site  — is pretty benign.

"Do you think you have time to play basketball while you're being President?" asks the editor, Xiang Xi.

"You know, I do play, not as often as I used to, but I still play maybe once every week or two," the president said. "And I enjoy going to games, as well.  I wish I could have gone to see the Shanghai Sharks, but it wasn't in my schedule.  And I'm looking forward to meeting Yao Ming, who is one of my favorite players."

The Wall Street Journal offers some insight,  suggesting that "the Southern Weekend affair is no clear-cut case of censorship. For starters, many subscribers in Beijing did receive the full edition of the paper, interview included, and unexpurgated versions of the paper were also easily available at newsstands. It would make little sense for censors to try to keep foreign journalists from seeing the article while leaving it easily accessible for Chinese readers.

"An official in the post office that distributes newspapers to the media outlets that received incomplete copied of Thursday’s Southern Weekend said the explanation was simple: The papers had arrived in the morning without their front pages, which came later in the day. She said this is a common problem with big news days. An official in the distribution department of Southern Weekend confirmed that the paper indeed had blown its production deadlines for the Thursday edition and delivered the front page late."

As for the interview missing from one of the official Web sites, "Officials at Southern Weekend were less illuminating on that. One staffer in the department in charge of the affected Web site said the electronic version of page two had been pulled after a “request” from “relevant departments” (有关部门) – sometimes code for the government. Two Southern Weekend journalists directly involved with the article declined to comment.

"We may never find out for sure what happened. Perhaps the Southern Weekend editors kept the interview off their free electronic edition to spur sales of the paper. Or, perhaps envy was involved. Many Chinese media – including more powerful state-run outlets – had requested face time with Obama during this trip. That it was granted only to a provincial paper with a reputation for pot-stirring might have rubbed powerful competitors the wrong way.”

It is all bizarre, and self-contradictory, and very China.

- Jake Tapper and Clarissa Ward

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