Shanghai Expo opens under cloud

Press restrictions echo those of 2008 Olympics

Updated May 3 3:06 pm Beijing time

BEIJING -- Shanghai's World Expo 2010 will open Saturday under a small cloud of criticism -- largely ignored by corporate media owners -- over Chinese government restrictions on press freedom echoing the information clampdown in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

The six-month international trade showcase of technology and ideas is expected to draw 100 million visitors to China's commercial capital at a time when the one-party government here is boasting it has managed a recovery from the recession better than most.

Some of the world's biggest media and technology companies -- including The Walt Disney Company, NBC Universal-owner General Electric, Bloomberg, Qualcomm and Microsoft -- are among the sponsors of the Expo's USA Pavilion, where the theme "Rising to the Challenge" celebrates America's respect for the values of innovation and diversity.

But diverse opinions in China's press are seldom tolerated and often punished -- especially when the country's Communist leadership is in the spotlight.

This week, the Propaganda Department and State Council Information Office set forth strict rules for Expo press coverage, even as some media organizations critical of the government were refused access to the event.

An Apr. 23 Propaganda directive asked Chinese media to wait until after the Expo's May 1 opening to run articles about the event's pavilions and advised them to use reports from Xinhua, the state's official news agency.

Chinese media companies also are heavily present at the Expo's Chinese Private Enterprise Pavilion, where organizations such as Yahoo! China-owner Alibaba Group, cinema chain Dalian Wanda Group, pioneering publicly-listed film studio Huayi Brothers Media, and outdoor media giant Focus Media are showcasing their talents.

Global press freedoms watchdog group Reporters Without Borders said Thursday that another Propaganda Dept. directive dated Apr. 25 asked Chinese media to reduce coverage of the Apr. 14 earthquake in western China's Qinghai province that left 100,000 Tibetan people homeless and told media instead to raise reports about the Expo.

Chinese authorities also blocked a pro-democracy newspaper from Hong Kong from going to Shanghai to cover the exhibition. The Apple Daily said Thursday that its 10 applications to join a press delegation to Shanghai had not been approved.

The paper that frequently takes jabs at Beijing's policies was initially refused accreditation to cover the Beijing Olympics but finally was allowed in. Shi Wei, head of the Expo's media center, told the Agence France Press, simply: "All media organizations are welcome to cover Expo."

French media involvement at the Expo includes showcasing clips from classic French films and actor Alain Delon talking about France's close ties with China on a special TV channel set up for the 's French Pavilion.  On Thursday, France and China signed a film co-production treaty during President Nicolas Sarkozy's state visit to Beijing and at a time when French filmmakers are eager to get a piece of China's booming boxoffice gross, up 43% to $909 million in 2009.

Beijing this week also reminded major Chinese news Web sites that they cannot do independent reporting, ordering site managers to block mention of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan solidarity campaigns organized in the aftermath of the quake, Reporters Without Borders said.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Congress-backed Radio Free Asia president Libby Liu issued a statement reminding media consumers that, "Despite recent economic gains, media freedoms throughout Asia have continued to decline and worsen."

RFA broadcasts news in nine languages into China, North Korea, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, where governments actively  censor information in all media and intimidate and harass reporters.
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