China News Media Crackdown Continues

China continues to crack down on foreign and domestic press in the wake of calls for a "Jasmine Revolution." One Canadian journalist was grilled at the police station — when one of the younger officers said he had been following the journalist's Twitter feed.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

To China, now, where the fear of an Egypt-style uprising has the government clamping down on foreign journalists. More than a dozen reporters were detained on Sunday in Shanghai. That's after a third week of anonymous online calls for protests against the ruling Communist Party.

NPR's Rob Gifford has the latest from Shanghai.

ROB GIFFORD: Lost in the standoff between the Chinese security forces and the foreign news media in recent weeks, has been the publication of an extraordinary statistic, that in the coming year, annual spending on law enforcement and public security in China, about $95 billion, will for the first time outstrip the country's spending on its military. You can believe that when you see how the Chinese state has mobilized in response to online calls for a Jasmine Revolution, like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt.

So far, though, there's been hardly even a whiff of jasmine in the air. But the government has in recent days reverted to an approach towards the Western press corps that's not been seen for more than a decade. Heavy monitoring of phone calls, following in the street and some journalists saying their email accounts have been hacked.

Mark MacKinnon of the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, is one of the journalists who's been pulled in for questioning. He says China reacted to the online threat much more quickly than any of the Middle Eastern or North African governments.

Mr. MARK MACKINNON (Reporter, The Globe and Mail): If you're looking at it from the perspective of regime survival or how these governments can deal with dissent, I mean, it shows they're well ahead of the government in Egypt and Libya, that seemed to be surprised by what was happening on social media. The Chinese government has obviously been paying attention since the very beginning of this recent protest movement.

GIFFORD: It's unclear whether the upwardly mobile residents of Beijing and Shanghai failed to take part in the planned demonstrations because of the heavy police presence or because they were just too busy shopping. The Chinese government has been able to spin the stories of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya as chaos that Chinese people wouldn't want.

But David Bandurski of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University says Chinese people's willingness to buy that message may not go on forever.

Mr. DAVID BANDURSKI (Media Analyst, University of Hong Kong's China Media Project): Chinese people are changing. They're much more savvy consumers of information. These new technologies are really - they're really changing the game. And there's a real limit to how much these stories can be controlled.

GIFFORD: Meanwhile, Mark MacKinnon says in his meeting with public security offices this week, the mood was tense and they threatened to revoke his journalist visa. There was one humorous interaction, though, he says, that captured the moment well.

Mr. MACKINNON: Basically, they wanted to read me the relevant laws and to remind me to respect the laws of China. Toward the end of this conversation, one of the officers I had been dealing with, a younger guy, sort of said, oh, and by the way, I follow you on Twitter.

GIFFORD: The officer wouldn't say whether he followed MacKinnon's Twitter feed because it was his job or because he found it interesting.

The next planned protest is this Sunday at 2:00 pm. The Chinese police will be there, so no doubt will be some foreign journalists. All the scene will need is some actual Chinese protesters.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, Shanghai.

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