BEIJING – China censored its translation of President Barack Obama's inauguration speech, removing references to communism and dissent, and quickly halted state television's live broadcast of the address when Cold War-era animosities were mentioned.
One television official tried to downplay the cutaway as a normal break in programming while an editor with the China Daily newspaper's Web site said staff who censored online versions of the speech likely did so because they were "duty-bound to protect the country's interests."
The news channel of state broadcaster China Central Television broadcast the speech live early Wednesday local time but appeared caught off-guard by Obama's reference to how earlier generations of Americans had "faced down fascism and communism."
The audio quickly faded out from Obama's speech and cameras cut back to the studio anchor, who seemed flustered for a second before turning to ask a U.S.-based CCTV reporter what challenges the president faces in turning around the economy.
China's ruling Communist Party maintains a tight grip over its entirely state-run media. Beijing tolerates little dissent and frequently decries foreign interference in its internal affairs.
Wang Jianhong, deputy director of the CCTV general editing department, said he did not stay up to watch the inauguration broadcast but suggested the transition was a normal part of the program.
"There are breakaways even when broadcasting China's own meetings," he said. "Americans might care a lot about the presidential inauguration, but Chinese may not be very interested."
The China Daily Web site, the official Xinhua News Agency and popular online portals Sina and Sohu all used a translation of the speech that omitted the word "communism" from the same sentence that tripped up the news anchor.
The translation was also missing Obama's remarks on free speech when he said "those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent — know that you are on the wrong side of history."
An editor at the China Daily Web site said managers did not order the censorship.
"Our translators and editors on the evening shift would make those decisions independently," said the editor, who refused to give his name as is common in China. "As Chinese, we are duty-bound to protect the country's interests."
Another popular online portal, Netease, carried a translation that was missing the paragraph mentioning communism, though it retained the part about dissent.
Rebecca MacKinnon, a journalism professor who teaches about media and the Internet at the University of Hong Kong, said this kind of censorship was common in China, though she could not say why the government would want to do so.
"I can't attribute motives to it, I can't get inside their head and explain what they're thinking. But this is standard practice," she said.
The full translation of Obama's speech could be viewed on the Web site of Hong Kong-based broadcaster Phoenix Satellite Television, which has a reputation as a more independent news source. The China Daily Web site posted Obama's full remarks in English only.
China has previously altered the words of U.S. officials. A 2004 speech in Shanghai by former Vice President Dick Cheney was broadcast live on state-run television at the insistence of U.S. officials, but the Chinese transcript of the remarks deleted references to political freedom.
In 2003, the memoirs of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's nominee for secretary of state, were pulled from publication in China after the government-backed publisher removed references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests and altered Clinton's comments about human rights activist Harry Wu.