Dancing with shackles: Increased censorship in China

We can always count on China Digital Times to point out articles on the media in China that we might otherwise miss.

This past week was kind of crazy for me — on vacation but stuck in rain and cold instead of sunshine and warmth. So I missed the original article from the Washington Post, but caught up thanks to the CDT.

The CDT piece is built on Journalists Face Harsher Censors, Marxist Retraining, an excellent piece published 1/10 by Simon Denyer on the new problems facing Chinese journalists.

Denyer points out the besides censoring more and more material, journalists “across China were forced to attend ideological training meant to impart the ‘Marxist view’ of journalism and to pass a multiple-choice examination on their knowledge of the Communist Party’s myriad slogans.”

And 

“We must adhere to the Marxist view of journalism,” [President Xi] said in a major speech on ideology in August. “We must communicate positive energy. We have to make sure the front of the Internet is firmly controlled by people who are loyal to Marxism, loyal to the party and loyal to the people.”

Journalism schools were also placed under control of the propaganda ministry with professors and students being closely vetted to make sure they adhere to the Party line.

To people who have only seen the “golden days” when censorship was eased back — the late 1990s until 2002 — all this seems bizarre. In fact, this is just going back to what the ruling party in China is all about. They never repealed the old laws and regulations that restricted press freedom, some leaders just thought they could “buy” the loyalty of journalists to “do the right be thing” with better pay and the possibility of overseas assignments.

I recall in the mid-1990s and into the 2000’s getting copies of the Code of Ethics for Chinese journalists as put forth by the Chinese All Journalist Association. I found the difference between that document and the codes of ethics of Western journalists’ organizations to striking.

The bottom line is that the Chinese journalist code of ethics — from the beginning to now — is very clear: A journalist’s first loyalty is to the Party and Marxist thought, then to the government and then to the readers and viewers of the news.

Compare that to the following points from the Code of Ethics of the (US) Society of Professional Journalists:

  • The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.
  • Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
  • Journalists should: Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility
  • Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Nothing there about following a party line or adhering to any government policy.

And that is the difference. Chinese journalists have always lived under laws and rules that prevent them from doing work that benefited the Chinese people. They were legally unable to expose corruption and malfeasance. The fact that some journalists were able to do so, is more a credit to their bravery than to any changes in the views of the Chinese government.

All that has really changed is that the leaders in Beijing are now facing the Internet and hundreds of million Twitter-like users who bypass the official censors and who find ways to dance around the censors running the Great Firewall of China.

So far, the Netizens have the edge but the government is still trying to stifle any form of free discussion.

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

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