June 3, 2019 / 5:11 PM / 5 months ago

Refinitiv blocks Reuters stories on Tiananmen from its Eikon platform

BEIJING (Reuters) - Under pressure from China’s government, financial information provider Refinitiv has removed from its Eikon terminal Reuters news stories related to the 30th anniversary of the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

FILE PHOTO: An advertisement for Refinitiv is seen on a screen in London's Canary Wharf financial centre, London, Britain, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Boyce

Refinitiv took the action to block the stories last week after the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which controls online speech, threatened to suspend the company’s service in China if it did not comply, three people with knowledge of the decision said.

Refinitiv’s intention was to block the distribution of the stories only in China, two people familiar with the matter said. However, many users outside of China said they could not see the stories. It was not clear why.

Earlier versions of this story were removed from Eikon’s scrolling news feeds in China soon after publication early on Tuesday morning.

Other recent Reuters stories with “Tiananmen” in the headline were also not available. Four Eikon clients in Asia outside China said the Tiananmen stories were visible on their feeds on Tuesday.

Refinitiv was formed last year when Reuters News’ parent company Thomson Reuters Corp sold a 55% stake in its Financial & Risk (F&R) unit to a group led by private equity firm Blackstone Group LP.

“Refinitiv is a financial markets news and data provider in China. We are proud of the role we play in the world to facilitate transparent and efficient financial markets,” the company said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

“As a global business, we comply with all our local regulatory obligations, including the requirements of our licence to operate in China.”

Refinitiv has a licence to provide financial information in China. A person familiar with the matter said the terms have not changed since the company was established, but enforcement has become more stringent.

In an internal memo to staff, Reuters President Michael Friedenberg and Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler said the news organisation had spoken to Refinitiv and expressed its concern. They urged staff to “continue reporting as you always would: to pursue the truth, without fear or favour.”

Reuters News spokesman David Crundwell said in a statement that Reuters “reports around the world in a fair, unbiased and independent manner, in keeping with the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles, and we stand by our China coverage.”

“We continue to provide Refinitiv with the same scope of content that we always have, including stories relating to China, and Refinitiv’s decisions will not affect the breadth or quality of our coverage. We remain committed to telling the stories that matter.”

The CAC did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

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Reuters News, a unit of Thomson Reuters, supplies news to Refinitiv under a 30-year agreement that pays Reuters a minimum of $325 million per year, making Refinitiv the news organisation’s largest customer. Reuters also provides news for media and digital clients.

The transmission of Reuters stories on Tiananmen to other media organisations and to the Reuters website was not affected by the Refinitiv action.

Reuters website has been blocked in China since 2015. The sites of many foreign news outlets are also off-limits in China, as are major U.S. digital media platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.

This is a sensitive year for the Chinese leadership, with the Tiananmen anniversary on Tuesday and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October.

The Tiananmen crackdown remains a taboo subject in China, three decades after the government sent troops and tanks to quell student-led protests calling for democratic reforms. Beijing has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to the thousands.

The blocked Reuters stories on Eikon included one based on remarks made by China’s defence minister on Sunday at a forum in Singapore defending the Tiananmen crackdown, and another on Taiwan’s call on Monday for China to “repent” for Tiananmen.

There was no customer notice to subscribers posted on Eikon.

Censorship of the internet in China has been intensifying under President Xi Jinping, and businesses have come under growing pressure to block content that Beijing sees as sensitive.

Last November, the CAC introduced new rules aimed at quashing dissent online in China, where “falsifying the history of the Communist Party” is a punishable offence for both platforms and individuals.

In the past two months, some popular services, including a Netease Inc news app and Tencent Holding Ltd’s news app TianTian have all been hit with suspension orders ranging from days to weeks, according to the CAC.

Despite the blockage, Reuters stories removed from Eikon’s scrolling news feed could still be found if users deployed certain search functions.

Refinitiv competitor Bloomberg declined to comment on whether it had blocked or limited distribution of news stories deemed to be sensitive by China on its financial terminals in China.

Reporting by Tony Munroe; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo and Michael Martina; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Simon Robinson

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