World News

China Blocks HBO Website After Oliver’s Jokes About Xi

Posted June 25, 2018 11:40 a.m. EDT

HONG KONG — Days after comedian John Oliver mocked China’s president, Xi Jinping, on his HBO program, authorities in that country now appear to have blocked internet users from gaining access to the network’s online content.

The HBO website has been inaccessible to mainland Chinese internet users since Saturday, according to GreatFire.org, an internet censorship watchdog.

The latest effort to erase Oliver from the Chinese internet comes after measures authorities implemented last week to scrub any mention of the British-born comedian on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging platform.

HBO, which is distributed throughout the region by the subsidiary HBO Asia, is unavailable on mainland China’s cable and satellite systems except at “foreign housing compounds” such as hotels. Oliver’s show, however, was never included in HBO Asia’s programming lineup.

HBO.com, the blocked website, effectively served in China as an advertising platform and not as a portal for streaming movies and programs.

Some of the cable network’s most popular shows, including “Game of Thrones,” are available for viewing in China via Tencent Video, a streaming service. “Last Week Tonight” is not among the programs Tencent offers, and the video platform’s HBO content did not appear affected by the ban.

In the 20-minute segment that preceded his banishment from the Chinese internet, Oliver condemned China’s human rights record and its crackdown on dissent. He also mocked Xi for censoring Winnie-the-Pooh. The leader is sometimes parodied in pictures posted online that compare him to the cartoon bear.

“Clamping down on Winnie-the-Pooh comparisons doesn’t exactly project strength,” Oliver said. “It suggests a weird insecurity.”

Chinese internet users often use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to gain access to restricted content. The networks mask users’ locations to bypass geographically based licensing restrictions and censorship by the government.