It’s nice to see that the State Department sometimes sees the same problem working journalists see.
In a November 8 2007 cable the U.S. embassy in Beijing reported on reactions from Chinese journalists covering the 17th Party Congress.
For those of us who follow the China-press freedom issue, this cable adds more grit to the basics that we already knew.
For example, the cable notes
Chinese official media trumpeted the unprecedented number of journalists, both foreign and domestic, who had received credentials to cover the event. Altogether, according to a Xinhua News Agency report, the Party accredited 807 domestic and 1,135 foreign reporters, compared with 570 domestic and 840 foreign journalists for the 16th Party Congress in 2002. Xinhua also boasted about the greater number of press conferences that took place on the margins of the Congress and the expanded ability of journalists to observe meetings and interview delegates.
So many more journalists and so many more chances to see the meetings. Beat still my heart.
But in the next paragraph, the cable writer described what all that “openness” really meant:
Local journalists generally agreed that while Party propaganda officials went through the motions of media openness, they offered reporters very little of substance. The “unprecedented” access to delegates, several contacts told us, amounted to little more than listening to a wider array of Party leaders robotically praise General Secretary Hu Jintao’s political report.
…even though domestic journalists were granted entrée to more meetings than at previous Party Congresses, the reporting they were actually allowed to print was so restricted that the greater access did not result in better coverage.
What I really enjoyed was the report that China Central Television (CCTV) took the directive to ensure no negative news was presented during the congress way too literally.
During the Congress, CCTV would not show images of people crying, regardless of the circumstances. Even nature shows depicting animals stalking and killing prey were cut because such scenes were considered “inharmonious.”
Lastly, the comments from Chinese journalists about the Internet were telling, but not surprising:
Contacts were nearly unanimous in their assessment that Internet controls were extremely tight during the Congress. Popular websites scrubed (sic) their chat rooms of even the most mildly negative or sarcastic postings, several of our interlocutors told us. Numerous foreign media outlets reported that on October 18 Chinese Internet users conducting searches using Yahoo and Google were redirected to the Chinese search engine Baidu (Ref B).
The source added that “Baidu has a bad reputation among journalists because of its alleged kowtowing to Chinese authorities.”
Adding: “Baidu actually gets more freedom because of its close relationship with the Chinese Government and thus is the best search engine for searches using Chinese characters. Google remains the best for English searches.”
Of course, the problem is that the Great Firewall of China continues to cause problems for anyone trying to use Google.
More on Google and China:
- Top Chinese officials ordered attack on Google, Wikileaks cables claim (Telegraph)
- Vast Hacking by a China Fearful of the Web (New York Times)
- China holds firm, Google moves search engine
- More on Google and China
- Surprise! Surprise! Beijing orders censorship on Google story
- This is rich: China accuses GOOGLE of censorship
- China and Google: The issue that won’t go away
- Chinese hack attacks — It’s about time it was taken seriously
- Chinese government linked to hacks, including attacks on foreign journalists