Perils and Promise of Chinese Journalism

Ying Chan, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at Hong Kong University, wrote an interesting piece for the International Press Institute on the thirst for news and what Chinese journalists have to face to satisfy that need.

Ying Chan: competition over news intensifies in China

What is interesting in the report is the use of new media to help circumvent the official censors.

[M]edia in China is growing thanks to a healthy economy, technological opportunities and state investment. When faced with restrictions imposed by the Communist state, many media organisations and individuals use the internet to circumvent or resist such censorship.

The use of mobile phones and the Internet to spread news really has the power structure in China going crazy.

For example, in the aftermath of dissident and free speech advocate Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize, censorship hit hard and fast. Mobile phone users in China reported their texting service was cut. Attempts to see anything about the Nobel Committee on the Internet were similarly blocked.

Chan points out that editors and reporters are caught between the public’s desire for news and the censors.

She describes the situation as having to serve two masters:

“In the newsrooms, editors are torn between conflicting demands from two new masters, the party censors and news consumers who increasingly thirst for the truth.”

I recall back in the late 1980s and early 1990’s when the government decreed there was no inflation. (That was a Western imperialist thing.) But prices were going up. Reporters and editors figured out how to get around the ban.

When new models of bicycles came out, the report would list the new price and the prices from the past couple of years. Never once did they use the word “inflation” but it did show that prices were going up.

The new generation of Chinese journalists want to act like Western reporters — that is tell all sides of a story — instead of acting like stenographers for the party leadership.  But the party is not willing to give up its control of the news dissemination.

“For now, the future for Chinese journalists remains both promising and perilous. The Chinese Communist Party has made clear that it will not relinquish control of the news media. But both commercialisation and the empowering forces of technology demand greater openness. Somehow, the government will have to resolve the contradictions inherent in its grand strategy of gaining credibility worldwide while suppressing dissent and critical thinking at home.”

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Filed under Asia, Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

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