Umbrellas and renovations: The not-so-subtle ways Chinese officials keep people from commemorating Tiananmen

On June 4, 1990, one year after Chinese soldiers massacred protesters in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government dispatched a police convoy to pacify hundreds of demonstrators at Peking University in northwest Beijing. Instead of directly criticizing Deng Xiaoping, the students smashed little bottles intended to symbolize the Chinese leader (in Chinese, the pronunciation of Xiaoping sounds the same as the words for "little bottle").

Over the last several years, commemorations of June 4, 1989 in China have been much smaller in scale, but the oblique forms of protest remain: a newspaper publishes a cartoon that looks suspiciously like the famous photo of Tank Man, for example, or a netizen makes jokes about May 35 -- the date that's four days after May 31 if you don't skip to June. This year, one popular Weibo post shows four giant inflatable yellow ducks (the original is an art project sitting in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor) in place of tanks in the Tank Man photo. And some are drawing renewed attention to the 1989 photo that surfaced in March (and was quickly censored) of President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan singing for troops in the square after the crackdown. The Shenzhen-based blogger William Long tweeted a screen grab of the Sina Weibo social network blocking the search for the word "today," noting drily that "today is a big day." (China Digital Times has a good roundup of the mini-protests.) 

The Chinese government, which no longer needs to seal off an entire district, as it did in 1990, has also used more subtle (OK, not always so subtle) methods to prevent the anniversary from being observed.

This year, for instance, Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall, which sits near the center of the square, just happens to be closed for construction from June 2 to June 5, according to ABC News -- presumably to reduce foot traffic to the popular memorial. And the popular Weibo candle function, often used to commemorate death, has been quietly disabled.

In 2012, the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index -- China's most-watched stock index -- fell 64.89 points (a number that could also be read as 6/4/89). Coincidence? Probably, as manipulating it would have been "exceedingly difficult," according to Reuters. Whatever the cause, Chinese censors blocked searches for "stock market" on Sina Weibo.

In 2010, the culprit was Foursquare, the popular location-based social network, which Chinese authorities reportedly blocked on June 4 because people were using it to "check in" to Tiananmen Square.

The most creative example I've come across dates back to 2009, when Chinese security officials tried to prevent a BBC correspondent from reporting on the square by opening umbrellas and obstructing camera shots. You can watch the charade below:


The protests the Turkish press isn't talking about

What's happening in Turkey? If you're actually in the country, that may be hard to tell, since many Turkish news outlets have stayed relatively quiet on the spread of protests and clashes with police across the country. While scenes from Istanbul have been splashed across the front page of U.S. newspapers, the news has been relegated to later pages in Turkish dailies. Photos posted on social media (like the one above) have shown side-by-side comparisons of CNN International and CNN Turk, the news network's Turkish affiliate. While the global broadcast showed a live feed of protests, the Turkish channel offered up a cooking show and a documentary, Spy in the Huddle, about penguins.

Zeynep Tufekci, who studies the societal effects of social media as a fellow at Princeton and has been tracking the Internet-fueled spread of the protests, cited this disconnect as "a striking example of what media cowardice and self-censorship looks like." Nor is it a new occurrence in Turkey, she points out:

Many major news events, recently, have been broken on Twitter including the accidental bombing of Kurdish smugglers in Roboski (Uludere in Turkish) which killed 34 civilians, including many minors.  That story was denied and ignored by mainstream TV channels while the journalists knew something had happened. Finally, one of them, Serdar Akinan, was unable to suppress his own journalist instincts and bought his own plane ticket and ran to the region. His poignant photos of mass lines of coffins, published on Twitter, broke the story and created the biggest political crisis for the government. Serdar, unfortunately, got fired from his job as a journalist.

CNN Turk has been tweeting about the protests and posting content to its website, but the lack of broadcast coverage of the protests has led to some strong critiques (including this one, in GIF form, via Uproxx). A petition calling on CNN to pull its name from the Turkish affiliate has already gathered more than 60,000 signatures.

CNN is only a partial owner of the CNN Turk channel. Though it helped advise the station before its launch in 1999, CNN quickly withdrew from the day-to-day operation of the network, according to an article by Laura Peterson in the American Journalism Review in 2000. "[M]any Turkish  journalists believe CNN's image as an ethical standard-bearer has the potential to raise the bar in a country where nightly news generally consists of celebrity gossip, political machine-gunning and salacious stories of the deviant and depraved," Peterson wrote, while noting some editorial choices at CNN Turk, including referring to a contested region of Cyprus as "the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" and branding Islamist groups "fundamentalist" and "terrorist" in advance of the election of the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist party that swept into power in 2002.

In recent years, Turkish news outlets have had to contend with an extensive government campaign against journalists. In its 2012 annual report, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Turkey "the world's worst jailer of the press" -- with 49 journalists imprisoned on various charges as of Dec. 1, 2012.