A Chinese editor is angry over an arbitrary suspension of his publication–Eastday.com’s official WeChat account, and he’s making sure Tencent hears about it.
“I am a man of the press, we deserve our dignity, and we won’t be cheaply bought. If one day all news outlets become minions of Tencent, will the “Chinese dream” even exist?” bemoans editor in chief Xu Shipping in a public letter published on Eastday’s site, with the title “The ferocious and authoritarian empire of the penguin”.
In the letter, he accuses Tencent of lacking the media literacy of a real news organization, and despite the lack of professionalism, Tencent, or more pointedly, Pony Ma, is flattering himself by endowing WeChat with the power to censor content and shut down accounts.
“The sad and ridiculous news is that nobody had any idea that you, Mr, Ma had such great ambitions. Tencent which you lead, is attempting to take on the ‘management’ role (of an editor). True, Tencent is mighty and WeChat is impressive, local governments and news outlets race to kiss up to you, but that does give you the authority or the ability to be a social administrator,” Xu said.
In the bigger picture however, we can see why Xu was concerned–if unchecked Tencent might grow to completely monopolize news and discourse– for many, articles from public accounts is fast becoming a staple source of information. Tencent could censor, as it already is doing, at its hearts whim–or more likely under pressure from the government, using ‘user complaints’ as a scapegoat.
These pungent remarks were instigated after WeChat’s public account administrator arbitrarily shut down one of Eastday’s accounts named “Breakfast News” (新闻早餐) on Tuesday. Tencent cited complaints from netizens regarding a piece titled “Why Street-vended Delicious-Smelling Roast Ducks Are Sold For As Little As 19 yuan –The Dark Secrets Revealed ! ”a stomach churning expose on processing dead and diseased ducks.
According to an official statement, WeChat ruled that the piece was guilty of “rumor mongering”, entirely based upon wobbly facts. “People’s Daily has debunked this urban legend, as it extrapolates a single case”, said WeChat.
In response to Xu’s discontent that Eastday’s account was not the first or last to carry such reports, WeChat cooly stated that ubiquity does not give excuse to the inaccuracy of the piece, and that WeChat had removed more than 2000 articles on contaminated ducks. However, a search for the same title on WeChat still brings up hundreds of results.
To be fair, the censored piece belongs to a genre of food scandal revelations, hugely pervasive throughout local tabloids and Wechat circles, their lifecycle incessantly renewed thanks to reposts by middle-aged aunts.
Although Tencent pledges to be equitable to all accounts, that impartiality might not be reciprocal. Xu’s grudge against Tencent might be of a more personal nature–he admits having criticized Tencent a number of times in public for being self-entitled to all sorts of valuable citizen data. Xu blatantly warns the authorities of Tencent growing too big to harness, and eventually biting the hand that feeds–local governments have always treated Tencent has a pet, showering it with privileges.
“A Tencent that unifies all sectors means trouble… Today it may show its ferocious side to press, tomorrow, it may be challenge national sovereignty,” the editor warned.