ANALYSIS: The News Beijing Didn’t Want Reported in 2017

Leaked censorship directives hint at the regime’s priorities, but tighter controls have made them harder to obtain.

By Sarah Cook

On an almost daily basis in China, the ruling Communist Party and state agencies issue detailed instructions to news outlets, websites, and social media administrators on whether and how to cover breaking news stories and manage related commentary. Although technically secret, hundreds of these directives have been leaked over several years by anonymous whistle-blowers in the media and elsewhere, offering observers unique insight into the party’s information-control operations.

It is therefore worrying that the leaks are becoming less common even as the authorities’ censorship ambitions continue to grow.

Drawing on an archive compiled by the nonprofit California-based website China Digital Times (CDT), Freedom House has analyzed over 500 directives in the past four years. The vast majority of them call for “negative” actions, such as deleting an article, not sending reporters to cover an event, or closing a website’s comment sections. But some mandate “affirmative” actions to promote the party line, particularly republishing copy from official news sources.

Freedom House’s analysis of the directives from 2017 reveals five notable trends:

1. Sharp decline in number of leaked directives: In 2013–14, at the start of President Xi Jinping’s tenure, a total of 341 directives were leaked over two years. The figure shrank to 81 in 2015 and 95 in 2016. And in 2017, only 43 directives were…