China ushers in new media reforms

This is from yesterday’s unlinkable South China Morning Post, and if you don’t mind I’m pasting the entire article. It’s that important.

Mainland authorities are tightening control of the media to close loopholes that until now have allowed some fresh air into the stifling official propaganda.

In recent months, the Publicity Department of the Communist Party has issued a series of directives to re-emphasise that trade publications and metropolitan newspapers must keep their news coverage to their
mandated area.

The ban on “extra-territorial” reporting deals a serious blow to investigative reporting and weakens the so-called “oversight by media”, editors and media analysts said.

Until recently, some of the high-profile exposés that shocked the nation or brought changes in government policies were made by reporters from outside the area in question, to circumvent local censorship.

For example, the Nanfang Weekly – which is published by the Southern Newspaper Group in Guangzhou – made a name for itself exposing official corruption in other provinces.

Another paper in the group, Southern Metropolis News, has often run into trouble with local authorities in areas outside Guangzhou city.

The Beijing Youth Daily also made frequent forays to expose corruptions in other cities.

The government has promoted “oversight by media” – subjecting the performance of local officials to scrutiny by the public through the media – as a way of checking rampant corruption.

If reporters were barred from undertaking investigations outside their local areas, the exercise would lose much of its edge, a media-studies professor said.

“This [non-local] reporting has been the best hope for liberalising the news media.” said the professor.

National media, such as the China Youth Daily and CCTV, have often asserted their independence. But under the new rules, national press must “communicate” with officials in the area being investigated and inform them of the content of the critical reporting before ublishing the article or airing the programme.

Television news programme producers were also instructed to highlight the positive. Even in exposés on corruption, they must emphasise that the sleaze was an exception while the overwhelming majority of
officials had high moral standards.

“Our work is getting more difficult,” said a producer with a newsmagazine programme in Beijing. “We can only sing praises.”

The news media had been subjected to increasingly tighter controls since the summer of 2003, to rein in the open expression of opinion that spread during the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic.

Under Li Changchun , a member of the Politburo Standing Committee with the portfolio of ideological matters, the media has taken a turn to the ideological left, and the squeeze on news outlets has been

The use of intimidation and detention is still very much in evidence. Most recently, Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter working for Singapore’s The Straits Times, was detained on espionage charges.

I want to urge you to read every word carefully. We are witnessing a true backlash against the brief window of openness we saw after the famous SARS press conference in March 2003. Now it’s time to slam the window shut and take care of those pesky, free-thinking reporters.

As one of them says above, if anything was going to liberalize China it would be a more independent media. Remember, it was only due to the Nanfang Dushi Bao that the Sun Zhigang story spread across China, leading to reform of the CCP’s noxious vagrancy laws. Eliminate this, and what hopes for true reform are there?

Some of my friends are still on the fence about Hu, saying he’s still under Jiang’s control and still beholden to the Shanghai gang. I’m frankly not convinced, and if he’s so beholden to them, Jiang might as well still be in power. He’s held the reins for more than two years now, and restictions have only tightened. Where’s the cause for optimism?

Thanks to the reader who emailed this to me.

The Discussion: 28 Comments

This means that the tiny bit of ” press f*eedom” that remained after the last couple of years since sars has been well and truly crushed by the jackboot of the CCP.

The situation from now on is that all local papers, if they want to report news from another province, must seek permission from the relevant authorities or face the wrath of the authorities?

That’s it then, what else remains to be otimistic about?

As mentioned, the vile ‘vagrancy’ laws were abolished after Nanfang Dushi Bao (southern metro news) reported Sun Zhigang’s murder.

I wonder how many more Sun Zhigangs will be murdered in the future without anyone knowing about it? How many officials will continue to act above the law as ‘untouchables’ because of this new crackdown?

How very, very depressing.

June 11, 2005 @ 10:59 am | Comment

Truly depressing.

It also makes me wonder how China will ever be able to meet its development goals – it’s very difficult to modernize without a watchdog function like the press provides. You need this kind of reporting on corruption and so on – how otherwise will the government be able to gauge the effectiveness of its reforms?

June 11, 2005 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

What reforms? We westerners may be thinking of reforms or buying into the Machine’s public pronouncements about Chinese reforms, but believe me what the Chinese gov’t intends to do or actually does can be 180 degrees different than what it says for public consumption. The CCP/gov’t truly do not care about “reforms” unless whatever they maybe makes China stronger. Having journalist running all around the country digging up dirt does not make the country work better and probably makes it look weaker in the eyes of the leaders and many common Chinese. I am beginning to believe strongly that “face,” control and not exposing dirty laundry are Chinese characteristics that will defeat many progressive reforms regarding free speech and press freedom the West, no, Americans would like in China. It ain’t going to happened so easily with the CCP standing at the gates.

June 11, 2005 @ 12:40 pm | Comment

Pete, I think what you’re saying about face is important. But I also think that some of the reforms we’re talking about – not a free press or a more representative government – are ones that the CCP has a huge stake in. Reforming the endemic corruption, for example, and doing something to address the economic conditions in the countryside. They are deeply afraid of losing control, to be sure, but rising public anger on these issues is another way of losing it.

I don’t know, maybe there’s some way of combining increasing authoritarianism and control of information with increasing economic development and ties to the rest of the world, but when has that worked yet?

June 11, 2005 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I have not heard anything about this particular story, neither on the blogs nor the newswires. Your readers seem to keep you very well informed Richard?

As martin and lisa say, depressing, even more depressing because the people of China are now walking around unaware that the last nail has just been driven into the coffin of the media.

If the Chinese media must operate under these new laws then what do we have left? Several hundred voices all trumpeting how wonderful everything is? I feel that the Chinese people have just lost again.

Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world that is the PRC 2005.

June 11, 2005 @ 1:10 pm | Comment

Other Lisa:
Yes, you would think so. However, I think China will only make those needed changes in its systems, if there is no alternative to moving ahead, and certainly not based on principles as the West might do. The Powers in China are running to the beat of a different drummer.

I have come to the conclusion that the Powers in China will do that which will improve its strength or its position. Anything else is essential without meaning to the Powers, but might be done or said to avoid problems or just for show. The bottom line is China has learned how to get or be what it wants without changing its basic nature or objectives. Reform as we think of it has no meaning to the Powers .

June 11, 2005 @ 6:28 pm | Comment

This and the internet clampdown too. I guess that we should take Hu Jintao very seriously when he says that he wants China to more resemble North Korea in political terms.

Altogether a great time to leave the country!

June 11, 2005 @ 6:48 pm | Comment

This is incredibly depressing. The Sun Zhigang story was proof of how the media can make China a better country and help limit corruption and crime. It is the people’s last hope. If this is taken away we are back in the dark ages. Combined with the clampdown on the Internet, it represents a dark veil descending over China, a self-imposed noose.

June 11, 2005 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

I think thats the article I emailed.

June 11, 2005 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

Thanks Jillian. Actually two separate sources emailed it. I am very glad, as I would never have seen it otherwise.

June 11, 2005 @ 8:11 pm | Comment

Pete, I’m not disagreeing with you that what you stated might very well be the government’s – or certain factions thereof – intentions. I just don’t think it’s going to work out very well for them. As Boo said, the press in China has had a real impact on revealing corruption and correcting abuses. Without it, and without any serious competition of ideas in public discourse, how will China become the modern superpower that it wants to become?

This kind of thing makes me feel much more pessimistic about China’s future, and I’ve always been in the cautious optimist category.

I’ll hold out some hope that it’s a temporary bad swing of the pendulum, but still…

June 11, 2005 @ 9:18 pm | Comment

The Peoples’ Watchdog

‘m reposting the majority of a post from the Peking Duck today because I think it merits as wide a distribution as possible…

June 11, 2005 @ 10:37 pm | Comment

Other Lisa
I think what the Chinese press has done in the past few years was good for China and the world. But we see it from an American point of view.

What I am trying to get across is that the Chinese as a whole and in Zhangnanhai do not see the world the way we do. For an example, take most successful American corporations. Each one has its own corporate culture it needs to make it cohesive, dominant and distinct. I have worked for one such corporation in the US. Once you join you are so to speak in another world of interests, of lingo and of needs to achieve corporate objects that tends to close you off from competitors and the public in genral as you do not have the same working experiences, needs and in case with competitors the freedom to be open. At least those were my reactions. In the case of China, it seems to me to be like a corporation trying to be successful and needs all the attributes of a relatively closed corporate society. Or, if you will, like a train with all the Chinese who count and the masses on for the ride to a golden life. if not for them, for their children, headed in one direction. (Any thing in the way be damn. And any Chinese who don’t like it will be rolled over too.) Maybe it will be called the Second Great Leap Forward. I believe now, China has set its course to be the dominant country in the world, I think the masses (people in my lexicon) support that, to the extent they individually think about it and anyway they have the cadres of the CCP to declare for them. And why not? It has the man power, it has the history of greatness, it has the brains, it has the ability to dominate and I think it collectively has the desire. And there is more. America now has a stupid president, a stupid GOP controled Congress and it wants to put more and more religiously oriented judges on the bench to drive America backwards in my thinking to some sort of Christian theocratic state. (This idea will be left for another thread.) America is weakened with its eye off the ball and distracted becasue of Iraq and the homeland and world Christianizing mission it seems to be undertaking, thanks to the GOP, BushCo and the outrageous religious right.

June 12, 2005 @ 6:45 am | Comment

Pete, though I am in agreement with you about the negative trend in the US, I don’t think that China is so different that the country and people wouldn’t benefit from a watchdog press. Apart from any notions of dem0cracy or more representative government or any of that. If for example you take the less negative interpretation of the Great Leap, that the famine was caused by a distortion of information up the chain of command (and I’m not saying that I take that interpretation, just using it as an example), if there had been some unbiased reporting that there were problems, would this have become the great disaster that it was? I know that talking about an unfettered press at that point is complete nonsense, of course.

June 12, 2005 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

If it’s true, Hu is really stupid and crazy!

June 12, 2005 @ 1:30 pm | Comment

Good God.
Pete really likes the word “dominant.”
Pete, do you even bother to use anal lubrication when you bend over and sing for the CCP?

June 12, 2005 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

“Foreigners” do not understand.
China has a free press. In Chinaaah,
everyone IS free to follow the CORRECT line of Marxist-Leninist Mao-Ze-Dong thought!
You are free to wave your little red book around and do a ridiculous dance.
You are free, in Chinaaaah. Because “as we all know, Chairman Mao liberated China.”
And if you don’t understand this, then “you don’t understand China.”
(Dripping with sarcasm here.)

June 12, 2005 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

Ivan, that’s downright cruel. Unfortunately, it’s also totally true.

June 12, 2005 @ 5:29 pm | Comment

SCMP: Yet More Restrictions on Mainland Newspapers

June 12, 2005 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

Lisa , I’m off to read your site right away, it sounds really interesting.

Martyn, I can’t claim credit for the photo, I just googled Chinese street sweepers and came up trumps.

I also thought Hank and Martyn’s comenst on teh Blog Wars thread were right to the point.

June 12, 2005 @ 7:03 pm | Comment

what lisa and many saied here are very true.

i know teh “cross-region reporting” was promoted by many and welcomed by the government and i think the government understand the pros and cons of “cross-region reporting”.

like the FLG debase between me and richard shows, the policy is made based on “principles” and “real world constraints”, therefore any policy is a compromise.

i am not sure why they see the cons outweight the pros and why they tradeoff the obvious benefits for somethings we don’t know. my point here is, as an outside observer, we need to read between the lines and understand what that really means, what are the motivations, purposes and possible results for and from that policy

complaining (lisa) is understandable, sarcasm (ivan) is fun, theory (richard) is great, but those don’t help us understand it. maybe nobody cares ?

June 12, 2005 @ 7:42 pm | Comment

complaining (lisa) is understandable, sarcasm (ivan) is fun, theory (richard) is great, but those don’t help us understand it. maybe nobody cares ?

Bingfeng not Bing, if we didn’t care, we wouldn’t be spending our time complaining, sarcasming or theorizing. I think we all care a hell of a lot and are trying to understand it based on our knowledge of how the CCP has acted in the past, what Hu’s present and future goals are, and the unique transitional period that the present moment represents.

June 12, 2005 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

“We are witnessing a true backlash against the brief window of openness we saw after the famous SARS press conference in March 2003.”:

There never was any “window of openness” brief or otherwise. It was all PR and damage control. The government’s crude attempts to cover-up the SARS epidemic backfired so badly that they were forced to feign openness, AFTER the truth was already known by anyone with eyes, in an effort to minimze the damage.

It was only after Dr. Jiang Yanyong (who was subsequently put under observation and ultimately detained) blew the whistle and they realized the game was up, that they “came clean”.

National Health MinisterZhang Wenkang and Beijing
Mayor Men Xuenong who were very publicly dismissed for covering up the epidemic (which was certainly done on orders from higher-up), were given new posts a few months later, after the international heat had died down.

June 12, 2005 @ 8:55 pm | Comment

Conrad, when you’re right you’re right. They did at least make it appear to be a period of openness, and for a couple of weeks even I was hoping Hu and Wen were going to be different. How soon we were all disillusioned….

June 12, 2005 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

Bingfeng not Bing, I can speculate on the whys (I gave it my 2 cents on my blog) and I can hope that it’s a temporary trade-off, and I do realize that it’s very hard for anyone on the outside to know what’s going on inside the government. I really do hope for the best. But though I’m pretty flexible about a lot of things, it’s hard for me to posit a situation where these kinds of media restrictions are good for China. Let’s hope this is temporary.

June 12, 2005 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

Other Lisa
I totally agree with you that China would benefit from a free press, period. However, I believe the Powers in China have no interest in being a China with Western characteristics. Their interest, it seems to me, is to stay in power and providing for the people as a governmental duty, at least enough to stay in power. This is a pretty simplified analysis, but gets to the heart of the matter IMO.

June 13, 2005 @ 3:03 am | Comment

pete, don’t forget the very people who make the rules which largely silence the media and turn them into CCP propaganda poodles are the same people who are systematically robbing the country blind, making millions out the property developments, sending their children to foreign countries (which ironically do have a free press), givng their friends and family plum jobs in the old state-owned industries etc.

June 13, 2005 @ 3:48 am | Comment


Say again?

Your comments lack a certain intelligence and class that would lift you out of the baboon family. Beyond that, what got your goat?

June 13, 2005 @ 3:54 am | Comment

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