One of the great things about the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club are the spectacular lunch speakers.
Earlier this month the had a great speaker on the status of social media in China.
Doug Young, Professor of Finance Journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai spoke about how the rise of new media in China has affected both a new generation of Chinese put also how China is ruled.
YOUNG is the author of the new book “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China” (hence, why he was speaking at the FCC). He worked for 10 years as a journalist at Reuters covering companies in Greater China out of the agency’s Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei bureaus.
The above link includes audio and video links. But if you want to skip straight to the 40 minute presentation and Q&A session, here it is:
But, you ask, why should an American be interested in China’s suppression of social media or how its people use social media?
The rulers of China have discovered that each person with a mobile phone is an independent reporter. The growth of micro-blogs, such as Twitter and Wei Bo, provided people with ways to send out information without going through the Communist Party filter. And that scares them.
The independent nature of the Internet concerns the rulers in Beijing because rumors end up having more credibility than the official media. (Well, DUH! That is true anywhere government tries to control media.)
Rather than deal with the reality that people distrust the official media because it IS the official media and not independent, the Chinese government moves to stifle any independence. Just this week it enacted a new law that requires every netizen registered with a micro-blog to use his/herreal name instead of a handle.
The reasons are quickly explained in a Bloomberg story:
The rules may give the party greater control over mobile phone users, as well as microblogs and websites that have become platforms for people to air dissent, rumor and claims of corruption not tolerated in print media. The party’s image was damaged after online activists exposed officials who maintained extramarital affairs, snapped up property and luxury items and covered up allegations of wrongdoing by family members.
(Add: New York Times: China Toughens Its Restrictions on Use of the Internet)
The new rules make it more difficult to report and comment on corruption. It also makes it more difficult to report illegal or dangerous practices by companies, such as the dumping of toxic waste in a river or stream or on a farmer’s land. (Yes, all these things have happened.)
Oh, and let us not forget that Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China. The indigenous micro-blogs such as Wei Bo are allowed to operate because the government can easily censor or shut down these operations faster than they can a foreign site.
Basically, the Chinese government is making it more difficult for people to learn about what is going on in China. And seeing how China is the major supplier of so many products purchased in the United States, that means American consumers are buying things with little or no knowledge of how dangerous those things may be. Or how many lives are being destroyed to make those products.
American consumers need to know. (Remember the dog food poisoning incident of a few years ago?) It is through open and independent reporting that dangers to people are often exposed, not through government press releases.
So it is important to Americans, Europeans, Africans, Latin Americans, and so on to know what restrictions China puts on its media and its people when it comes to freedom of speech, expression and press. Because, then we want to know: What are they hiding and why?
Censorship and corruption has a global reach. The more people know about what is going on the better equipped we are to fight it.