"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Communists have a tight grip on China's media

The Chinese Communist Party has a Propaganda Secretary stationed
inside each newspaper.

Without private property there can be no freedom of the press or speech

  • The Communist crackdown on the Southern Weekly newspaper lets up just a bit.  The Communist Party control and ownership of newspapers is fully in place.
  • "These journalists are civil servants who are supposed to obey orders." - - - Communist Party member

China's new Communist Party leaders want to appear more open, but they're not about to give up control of the media. That's the lesson of a dustup involving an influential newspaper whose staff briefly rebelled against especially heavy-handed censorship.

The staff of Southern Weekly returned to work after some controls were relaxed, but public demands for the ouster of the top censor were ignored. Some observers took solace in the fact that no journalists were punished — at least not yet.

"The fact that no one is being immediately punished is a victory. That is not insignificant," said Steve Tsang, a China politics expert at the University of Nottingham in Britain. "It's a smart use of the party's power but it's not actually making any compromise in terms of the basic fundamental principles of the party staying fully in control on anything that really matters," reports the Associated Press.

Press censorship in China sparks rare public protest

One lesson of the Guangzhou protests is that the overarching conflict about the role of the press in a communist society is not likely to be resolved any time soon.

"You can't fight corruption without freedom of the press," said a 46-year-old activist, Xiao Qingshan, who demonstrated from a wheelchair (necessitated by a work injury) that was festooned with pro-democracy slogans. "We're tired of being lied to. We want the same kind of freedoms as in the West."

Protesters poked fingers in each other's chests. They pushed. They shoved. Police who had planted themselves in the middle of the driveway broke up a few incipient fights but otherwise did not intervene.

The Los Angeles Times reports about one free press protest where a 73-year-old retired engineer wearing a Chairman Mao pin on his leather jacket hectored a university student who had dared to walk across the divide to debate.

"You young people don't understand what's going on. Who does this newspaper belong to? It belongs to the Communist Party," lectured the older man, who would not give his name. "These journalists are civil servants who are supposed to obey orders, not behave like traitors following the United States."

Communists stage a counter-protest against freedom of the press and the supporters of the Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou. (Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP)

Indeed, despite a shift toward commercialization, newspaper ownership in China remains deeply lodged with the state. In order to operate, all of China's more than 2,000 newspapers require a Communist Party or government organ to sponsor a publishing license. Inside each newsroom is a Communist Party secretary who makes sure the stories are politically correct.

The restrictive environment makes the journalism at the muckraking Southern Weekly and its sister paper, the Southern Metropolis Daily, all the more remarkable.

The publications belong to the Nanfang Media Group, which is owned by the government of Guangdong, China's richest and most liberal province.

For several years, the Southern Weekly and the Southern Metropolis Daily were able to deliver stories that challenged authority and exposed unchecked power.

That was possible because the newspapers' stewards had long belonged to liberal factions of the party, shielding it from interference, said Cheng Yizhong, who helped launch the Southern Metropolis Daily in 1997.

(Los Angeles Times)

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