HONG KONG—Liberal journalists, scholars, and writers in China have called on officials to allow increased freedom of expression and media, as the country celebrated its 10th National Journalist Day.
“A Journalist Day without press freedom is a fake,” Hangzhou-based journalist Zan Aizong, who published an article on overseas-based Web site Canyu.com, said in an interview.
“Under the control of the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department, journalists cannot even mention concepts such as ‘press freedom,’ ‘independent media,’ or the idea that ‘media is a king without a crown,’” Zan said.
Many members of the media took the opportunity to draw more attention to the problems they face while reporting in China even as Beijing ordered journalists to “stick to party lines” in covering emerging news events.
On Sunday, China’s propaganda and ideology chief Li Changchun congratulated state media journalists in a speech to mark Journalist Day.
“You have supported the Party’s management of the media…and ensured that the power to lead news and propaganda has remained firmly in the hands of the Party,” Li said.
Li urged state media to continue to adhere to the edicts of the Party and bolster its image at home.
“We must better boost the confidence of the people in the Party and government,” he said.
Li also called on state journalists to “strengthen our exchanges and cooperation with overseas media…to transmit China’s position and voice, and to expand the international influence of our news and propaganda.”
Journalist Day is celebrated in China in memory of Liu Yusheng, a reporter for the Jiang Sheng Daily executed by the Nationalist Kuomintang government on Jan 21, 1933 for exhibiting communist sympathies.
After his death, it was found that Liu had been prosecuted because he had exposed local government involvement in illegal drug sales through the collection of “taxes” from dealers.
China's Journalist Association protested Liu's treatment and launched a campaign for freedom of the press.
In 1934 the Hangzhou Journalist Association proposed a Sept. 1 national day to honor China's journalists and bring awareness to their work and in 1999 the Chinese Communist Party officially declared Journalist Day would be celebrated Nov. 8 each year.
Liberal scholar Zhou Ze, a law professor with the China Youth University for Political Sciences, organized a private conference Sunday to discuss press freedom.
“In recent years, I have been defending journalists with cases in which their rights were trampled on. I want to take the day as an opportunity to exchange views with some of them on how to protect themselves while performing their media duties,” Zhou said in an interview Monday.
“During the conference, we also discussed some recent cases and hope to learn from these events,” he said.
Nearly 30 journalists attended the conference, including Gao Qinrong, a former reporter with the Taiyuan-based Shanxi Youth Daily.
In 1998, Gao exposed local corruption in an irrigation project in an article for the People’s Daily which led to a 12-year jail sentence. He was released in 2006.
In an interview, Gao called China’s Journalist Day “just a nominal celebration.”
“The key point is whether journalists can fulfill their responsibilities in serving and advancing democracy and rule of law in China,” Gao said.
“If a country uses the judicial system to persecute journalists, the country itself is actually very dangerous,” he said.
Another conference on freedom of expression, held over the weekend in Lianzhou city in southern China’s Guangdong province, was attended by a group of well-known liberal Chinese bloggers.
The weekend marked the fifth meeting of the annual bloggers’ conference, which had previously been held in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Beijing, and Guangzhou.
Speaking at the conference, Beijing-based legal scholar Teng Biao called fighting for one’s rights “a duty of a Chinese citizen.”
“In a society which doesn’t have freedom, we must explore the opportunity to turn ourselves into free men,” Teng told the audience.
Beijing University Professor Hu Yong said use of the Internet in China had “created many great figures in a time when there were no great figures.”
“Their slogan is simple: ‘I want an explanation of everything, and if you cannot explain it to me then I will explain it to you,’” Hu said.
“The Internet has helped people to explain everything. Is it possible for us to return to a time before the Internet? Absolutely not,” he said.
Harvard-trained scholar Mao Xianghui, known by his English name Isaac Mao, also attended the bloggers’ conference.
Mao called the Internet an important resource in China’s increasingly mature civil society.
“The Internet in China is becoming more and more a forum for open dialogue and negotiation on all matters concerning civil society,” Mao said.
China routinely reins in journalists who are reporting on national incidents and restricts the use of the Internet by its citizens in order to block out “sensitive” material.
Officials reacted with unprecedented speed to July 5 riots in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which Uyghurs say were sparked by an armed crackdown on unarmed Uyghur protesters.
They issued invitations to foreign journalists, setting up an international press center and holding news conferences with city leaders.
But some journalists were detained when they strayed too far from the portrait the government wanted them to paint.
These news measures came in sharp contrast with the blackout imposed during the Tibetan uprising of early 2008, when international media were forced to rely almost exclusively on reports from Tibetan exile sources.
Internet users also face an elaborate system of virtual blockades aimed at preventing them from accessing content the authorities want to keep off-limits.
China recently succeeded in undermining key software used by its netizens to climb over the Great Firewall, a sophisticated system of government-backed blocks and filters designed to limit what people can view online.
Developers of circumvention tools have warned that China's Web censorship is entering a new phase of technological capability, boosting human and material resources into a countrywide upgrade of surveillance methods.
Original reporting by Lin Di and Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.