Each year the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reports to Congress on what is going on in China as it affects business, economic and security policy.
Happily enough this commission sees free media as a vital part of all three.
Chapter 4 of the report (CHINA’S MEDIA AND INFORMATION CONTROLS—THE IMPACT IN CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES) documents loads of ways the Chinese government restricts access to information and harasses media workers.
Lots of good examples of how Beijing gives one thing with words and takes away a lot with deeds.
- Despite a policy that allows foreign journalists access to more areas outside the major cities, journalists have been blocked from entering areas, been arrested or harassed by national and local officials to prevent the journalists from doing their jobs.
- Harassment can take the form of constant surveillance to silly — but effective — actions such has having plainclothes police walk in front of news cameras with open umbrellas.
- A new “code of ethics” for Chinese news assistants and interpreters requires only transmission of “positive information,” forbids independent reporting and reminds the Chinese staffers that nothing can be broadcast or published until it is first released by the official government news agencies.
- E-mails were sent to news assistants that included trojan horse software that would allow an outsider to gain control of the assistant’s computer in the news bureau.
- And there is always the traditional method of security forces just breaking into the rooms of journalists and beating them.
The report goes on, documenting these and other ways the Chinese government harasses and seeks to control all media activities in the country.
And there is also the Great Firewall of China.
The efforts by the ruling clique in China to control all aspects of information and communication has led it to run the largest censoring operation in the world. Hundreds if not thousands of government security bureaucrats monitor the Internet for signs of “spiritual pollution” or subversion. And the Chinese government definition for both of those “crimes” is anything that might smell of independent thought or criticism of the government.
The commission summary of the media section is a damning indictment of the way China conducts business:
- The January 2007 media reforms instituted in response to international pressure leading up to the Summer Olympics Games in Beijing and extended indefinitely in October 2008 have resulted in modest improvements in the working conditions for foreign journalists in China, but their effect has been limited because of the Chinese government’s selective implementation and adoption of new strategies for restricting the flow of information.
- The January 2007 reforms have not improved working conditions for Chinese journalists, who remain subject to intimidation, harassment, violence, and imprisonment, often on vaguely defined ‘‘state secrets’’ charges.
- The Chinese government is employing a diverse array of strategies for silencing or guiding discussion about issues it considers
- The Internet has emerged as a contested space in China. It provides a venue for discussion that is more open than traditional media but is also subject to the world’s most sophisticated Web filtering system. The Chinese government’s insecurity about Internet-enabled protests and the increased scrutiny of government officials on the Web has prompted the government to add additional elements to its already advanced Internet control system.
- The case of Green Dam demonstrates that even if the Chinese government had the technological capability to assert complete control over the Internet, it would not necessarily have the political clout to achieve this end. Furthermore, the case of Green Dam demonstrates that the Chinese government is not immune to pressure on information control issues from the international community.
And as expected, the Chinese government blasted the report as interfering in the internal affairs of China. The only thing that was missing from the usual screed is the standard, “and this insults all Chinese people in the world.”
One of these days the ruling cadres in Beijing will understand that they can no longer completely control the message and be engaged with the rest of the world. Thanks to the Internet and mobile phones, the ability to control every piece of information is gone. But that little bit of reality doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying.