Tag Archives: Press Freedom

China: Independent journalism has a vile effect on society.

Nice to see the leadership in China is being honest about their attitude toward freedom of press and speech. In the past, they used would at least claim to be for freedom of the press but within limited “guidelines.”

Now, they are straight out saying press freedom is vile.

Websites run by Sina Corp, Sohu.com Inc, Netease Inc, Phoenix New Media Ltd’s iFeng and others had engaged in “actions that seriously violated regulations and had a completely vile effect”, state media reported.

Seems all that the Chinese government will allow online news services to publish are press releases from the government. Reuters reports the crackdown is taking place as part of a campaign against fake news and the spreading of rumors.

Seems the massive flooding in Hebei province and subsequent complaints of local corruption that made the damage greater plus the rejection of China’s claims to all the islands in the South China Sea by an international tribunal in The Hague have Chinese leaders worried that uncontrolled news might cause some problems.

Once again — and I don’t know why I have to keep saying this — by censoring news media, the Chinese government only helps strengthen rumor mills and whisper campaigns. When the people do not have a reliable source of information, they will turn to what ever source they can.

Rumors and other unsubstantiated accounts only lead to more instability in society, not less. It is no surprise that the most stable and resilient governments in the world are also those that honor press freedom.

 

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Prejudice: A Natural Outcome of Censorship

China Digital Times pulled a great item from an interview with Chinese publisher Bao Pu and writers Guo Xiaolu and Hao Qun (who goes by the pen name Murong Xuecun) from the June 3 issue of Foreign Policy.

The blockage of the Internet by the Chinese government means, said the authors and publisher, that people are not getting enough information to make rational decisions.

[R]elatively few people actually bypass censored information on the Internet. But why? Censorship in the long run breeds prejudice. Once you have this prejudice, you think you know everything, but you don’t. That’s why they’re not actively seeking — because they think there’s nothing out there. It’s a vicious cycle.

I have long argued that censorship means the people of a country will begin to rely more on rumors and prejudices than on cold hard facts. China’s rulers, however, say too much unregulated (censored) information leads to social instability.

What they really mean is that once people start thinking critically, the iron-heel rule of the Communist Party in China will be weakened.

And what goes for China goes for other dictatorships. Think Iran, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe. Even the leaders in proto-dictatorships such as Singapore and Malaysia want to control all forms of media to protect their hold on power.

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China steps up war on press freedom

The Washington Post did a great piece on how inspectors for the Chinese government said the Chinese propaganda office is not being aggressive enough.

“The effect of guiding culture and art to serve socialism and art is not obvious enough,” Wang Haichen, the leader of the inspection team, was quoted as saying. “Its news propaganda is not targeted enough, or effective enough.

“It needs to strengthen further its leadership of ideological work. It does not do enough in applying the principle of the party controlling the media in weak points like new media, or in coordinating thought and political work at universities.”

The complaint comes after President Xi Jinping told media outlets they need to “take Party” as their surname and to “serve as the party’s throat and tongue.

The efforts to control the press have stepped up under Xi and have included efforts to shut down reporting on China’s violation of human rights by journalists not in China.

Part of the campaign is to not only make sure all Chinese media outlets kowtow to the whims of the party leadership, but also to make sure foreign media is made to be seen as the enemy by the Chinese people.

National Public Radio correspondent Frank Langfitt is about to leave China after five years of reporting from Shanghai. He did a great piece today (June 13) explaining how the Chinese government has stepped up its campaign against not only Western journalists but against the whole concept of free and independent media. (As of this posting — 6:30 a.m. June 13 — the whole piece is not yet available on the NPR website. It will be available later in the day.)

The growth of the Chinese middle class and the current economic slowdown clearly scares the country leaders in Beijing. For the past 30+ years, the Communist Party has told the Chinese people that only through the party will economic growth occur. Western notions of democracy, free press and market forces are not needed because “the Party will provide.”

The problem the party now has is that its claim to legitimacy is based on the one leg of economic growth. The current economic slowdown is threatening that sole pillar.

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Chinese Foreign Minister Shows Contempt For Free Press

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi decided that any questions about China’s human rights record is not something he likes being asked. Likewise, he figures no one else should be asked about it either.

An old friend, Frank Ching in Hong Kong reported about a little dust up during a joint press conference Yi had with Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Stephane Dion.

Seems a reporter asked Dion aobut China’s human right’s record. Yi jumped in, preventing Dion from answering the question. Yi then proceeded to give the usual lies about how people in China enjoy all sorts of human rights, he then added no one but the Chinese people have a right to talk about the situation in the Middle Kingdom.

Yi then began berating the Canadian reporter for daring to ask a question about human rights in China.

  • “Do you understand China?
  • “Have you been to China?
  • “Do you know that China is now the world’s second-biggest economy, with US$8,000 per capita?”

Frank hits the nail on the head: “If that is the way China behaves when it is the world’s second-biggest economy, what is one to expect when it becomes No. 1?”

He is also right when he wrote:

The media’s response should be to keep peppering him with questions everywhere he travels about China’s treatment of human rights advocates, the Hong Kong booksellers, the imprisonment of the Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt and the South China Sea.

Since these are the questions Wang doesn’t like to hear, these are the questions that should be asked.

Over and over again until they get a proper airing.

The problem is that only reporters who never hope to get to China are the ones who can ask those questions.

Journalists already in China who push as Frank urges will find out their visas are suddenly “out of order” or will not be renewed when they expire. Journalists outside China who ask these kinds of questions will find they will not be able to get a visa to visit China, even as a tourist. And forget about being on any agreed-to list of journalists to cover any event that involves the Chinese government any where in the world.

Frank looks into the big picture of the Chinese attitude that it has the right to impose its form of press repression around the world. (Think China’s application for the 2022 Olympics.)

What minister’s outburst over human rights in China tells us

 

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Getting around Chinese censorship to honor Tiananmen demonstration

This piece was first posted at the blog site of the International Journalism Community of the Society of Professional Journalists.

June 4 is remembered as the day the Chinese government brutally shut down a peaceful demonstration in Tiananmen Square in Beijing that was calling for reforms in the ruling Communist Party and in the government.

One of the most famous scenes is the lone man with shopping bags standing up to a column of tanks.

While no official death toll has been released by the Chinese government, estimates are that hundreds died in the army attack on the demonstrators. An additional 10,000 or so were arrested.

Each year in Hong Kong there is a major commemoration ceremony — the only place in China that has such a thing, thanks to the protection of civil rights enshrined in the handover treaty of 1997.

Also each year the Chinese government tries to censor any reference to June 4 or the demonstration. And each year it fails, because the Netizens of China stay one step ahead of censors.

One of the earliest work arounds was a call to honor the dead of May 35. Or Remember the Square of 8. (For the math-phobic, 8×8=64 and 64=June 4)

The good people at China Digital Times have been keeping track of the code words and phrases the Chinese censors have banned on the Internet. One of the more humorous items is how the ban on “64” caused reporting on the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points. (Yes, that looks like 6/4/89) Rather than risk anyone thinking it was a Tiananmen remembrance, the government doctored the stock report for public consumption.

Here is the China Digital Times list. It is well worth the read.: Five Years of Sensitive Words on June Fourth

Be sure to pay close attention the ASCII cartoon of tanks rolling over a person.

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Economic Stability Needs Free Press

Despite all the complaints about how poorly “the media” covered the Wall Street shenanigans that led to the 2008 Great Recession, people still turn to the unfettered and independent media outlets for news about stocks, bonds and the general state of the economy. In fact, the whole system of savings and investment would not work without a free press.wall_street_after_dark

The media — and this includes knowledgable bloggers — provide the public with loads of information about what is going on in the marketplace. They look at government regulations, company news and the overall status of the market.

One of the reasons there is global support for the U.S. stock markets is because there is such a strong tradition of free and unfettered media. (And perhaps, part of the trauma of the 2008 collapse was because how poorly the market was covered at the time.)

In fact, one of the most important part of any successful stock market is a free press that is allowed to dig into company records and government actions. Look at London, Paris, Tokyo and even Hong Kong.87502278_shanghai12

So is it any wonder there are uprisings and complaints about how things are going in the Chinese stock markets?

China Digital Times summarized a series of articles of how people across China are complaining about their losses in Chinese investment instruments.

According to the [Wall Street] Journal, some 1.6 million investors lost a total of at least $24.3 billion to collapsing wealth-management products over the past year. Many say they invested because of the perceived endorsement of government officials and state media, and are now demanding reimbursement from authorities.

Rather than move to make sure people got the best and most accurate information about where and how to invest their money, the Chinese government, instead, has decided to restrict even more information.

A series of leaked media directives published by CDT further illustrates efforts to manage discontent. Trying to steer a course between inciting panic and stoking further exuberance in June, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Film, Radio and Television told broadcasters not to “join the chorus of the bull or bear market. Rationally lead market expectations to prevent inappropriate reports from causing the market to spike or crash. […] Do not conduct in-depth analysis, and do not speculate on or assess the direction of the market. Do not exaggerate panic or sadness. Do not use emotionally charged words such as ‘slump,’ ‘spike,’ or ‘collapse.’”

Additional directives instruct editors to focus on “illustrative examples of steady growth,” while downplaying or holding back on anything negative about the property and stock markets.

Wall Street Journal reporter Laurie Burkitt retweeted one of the best reactions to the Chinese government actions:

And yet, the government continues to see it self as the main actor.

Why does this matter to journalists or even the people in the United States?
A great misunderstanding of how the Chinese markets work led to a global run on markets. And yet, only after the Western markets started falling because of what was happening in China, did people start figuring out the fall was an overreaction.

There is not enough foreign investment in the Chinese market for it to be a major problem. The London consultancy Capital Economics has said foreigners own just 2% of shares. — BBC  1/7/16

The smoke and mirrors situation in China built up by the ruling elite created a situation where otherwise strong Western investment instruments collapsed in just a matter of days. To be true, the collapse of the Chinese stock markets did indicate the Chinese economy was slowing. But again, had there been better reporting in China — that is had the government NOT restricted what reporters can cover — then the news about the slowing Chinese economy would not have come as such a shock.

The anti-free press fixation of the Chinese government is not just morally wrong, but it clearly also has a direct impact on U.S. investors, including a lot of retirement funds.4aa104a2bd6e75a39c9db8dad7319dbb

By the way, this has all happened before.

Back in the early 1990’s — when I lived in Shanghai — the government opened stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The party and government leaders encouraged people to invest. The people, figuring that the government has always taken care of them in the past will guarantee they will be taken care of in the future.

When the market collapsed in early 1992, millions of people lost their life savings. Men and women in their 60s discovered they had to now work many more years and save a lot more of their earnings to prevent starvation in their old age.

At that time the government did not step in to make good the losses. Deng Xiaoping was effectively in charge and forbade any bailouts. (Except for key companies, of course.) He made it clear the people will have to learn about the ups and downs of a marketplace economy with Chinese characteristics. He even allowed for and encourages small private companies to be set up.

The new leadership, however, has seem hell-bent to restore the all-pervasive nature of the Communist Party in Chinese society. They have apparently become nervous about the growing middle class. Seems once people get a taste of economic freedom, they tend to want political and social freedom as well. And that is not allowed.il_570xn-628619991_jc8m

So the government stepped up it campaign to crush freedom of speech and expression — including reminding the media their job is to represent the party — and stepped up its campaign of the government being mother and father.

The Chinese leadership claims they are concerned with preserving stability and avoiding social unrest. Yet the keep taking steps that lead to more social unrest.

By restricting the media to being only mouthpieces of the government, people will turn to rumors and whispering campaigns for information. And, as anyone who has played the “telephone game” will know, what goes in at the start is not necessarily what comes out the other end.

 

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China censorship campaign claims another victim

When things start going bad the first thing dictators do is limit information about just how bad things are. And China is acting according to the same script.

As the global economic slowdown started to hit China, President Xi Jinping stepped up pressure on the media. Then more cases of corruption started popping up all over the country, including in the upper echelons of the party. To stop people seeing party leaders living well while many are losing their jobs, Xi figured the only thing to do was to prevent the people from seeing or hearing about such things.

The crackdown has been building. In 2013 Xi started clamping down on traditional media as well as online services. In January 2014 he put himself in charge of a new committee to keep an eye on the Internet.

The South China Morning Post reported:

News that Chinese President Xi Jinping will take charge of a new panel overseeing internet security and information technology development has sent a shiver down the spines of Chinese media practitioners and net users.

Many have expressed fears that the launch of such a high-level task force would deal another blow to press freedom which had already been suffering after Xi’s administration tightened controls on the internet in recent months.

Along the way Xi also said it is the responsibility of journalists to follow the Communist Party line and to promote government policies. He also launched a campaign against any dissent by not only going after dissidents in China but also those who have been driven into exile because of their views. The government has also started rounding up family members of Chinese living abroad who have expressed critical views of the government. The event that seemed to cause an increase in the repression was a letter that circulated just as the rubber-stamp People’s Congress started its sessions calling for Xi’s resignation. (China Digital Times has a good summary.)

The latest victim is an editor from Southern Metropolis Daily.88979198_5375e79ajw1f2cqbuhc0tj20zk0n47az

Yu Shaolei posted a resignation note online, saying he could no longer follow the Communist Party line. His message wished those responsible for censoring his social media account well.

Yu posted a photo of his resignation form on his Sina Weibo microblog account Monday evening. It was quickly taken down, but a few resourceful people saved a screen capture of the note.

From the BBC:

Under the “reason for resignation” section, he wrote: “Unable to bear your surname”.

This was a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tour of state media outlets in February, when he said journalists must give absolute loyalty to the Communist Party, and “bear the surname of the Party”.

Instructions to the media and Internet censors have included not only hyping good news about the Chinese economy and leadership, but also what stories not to allow out.

Again, China Digital Times does a great job of keeping track of the censorship directives under their “Ministry of Truth” section. Here are a few examples:

All in all, despite China’s efforts to become a major global player, the leadership is still acting like a group of 19th century petty dictators who think they can control all aspects of the lives of the people inside their borders.

 

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