Party Slams Press Freedom

An official journal says media reforms will bring about the collapse of China.
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A man reads a magazine beside a newsstand in Beijing in a file photo.
A man reads a magazine beside a newsstand in Beijing in a file photo.

HONG KONG—An official journal affiliated with the ruling Chinese Communist Party has hit out at calls for increased freedom of the press in China, as the country is counted among the worst in the world in which to be a journalist by an annual survey.

"Media reforms triggered the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union, which had been carefully built up over several decades, within just a few short years," said the article, published in the journal Qiu Shi this week and signed by prominent commentator Zhao Qiang.

He said some Party thinkers said there was a progression from press reforms, to the loss of hearts and minds, to the influence of "external forces," to skeletons coming out of the closet, to rising public anger, to the loss of political power and the eventual disintegration of the country.

"Some people are attacking China's media system, calling for it to be freed from state control," Zhao wrote.

"This is the reason why our system is the correct one, and an effective one."

The 2010 survey of global press freedom carried out by the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres put China 171st out of 178 countries and territories for journalistic autonomy.

"Despite an astonishingly vibrant and active blogosphere, China still censors and jails dissidents," RSF said in its annual report.

It called on China to shoulder its responsibility as an emerging power and fulfill its obligation to guarantee the right of their citizens to a free press.

But the Qiu Shi article said China wouldn't take the bait.

"It is self-evident that their aim is to get China to go the same way as the Soviet Union," it said. "China isn't going to be fooled that way."

'No need for logic'

Li Datong, ousted former editor of the cutting-edge news supplement Freezing Point, said that a rejected government couldn't blame the media for its downfall.

"If you have behaved badly and the people reject you, then it wasn't the media that turned you bad," Li said. "This is total nonsense."

"What this really means is that they are simply not going to change the way things are, and anyone who talks about reforms is dreaming," he added.

The article sparked fierce online discussion among China's netizens, many of whom said it had flawed logic.

"When I was in high school I flipped through a lot of issues from Qiu Shi, and couldn't understand any of them," wrote user "Nanshan" on the microblogging service Twitter.

"I thought they were too highbrow for me, but later I realized that there is no need for logic in Party literature; they aren't founded on reason ... [It has] Party spirit but no humanity."

Former Beijing University media studies professor Jiao Guobiao, author of an analysis of China's powerful Party central propaganda department, said the article probably came in response to recent calls for press freedom from journalists and some retired Party elders.

"Some of the older Party members have been calling for a media law and freedom of the press," he said. "This has to do with pressure for political reform."

"This is a counter-stimulus, intended as an antidote," Jiao added.

Open letter

Hundreds of journalists and retired Communist Party officials signed the Oct. 1 open letter calling on China's parliament to put an end to government censorship of the media.

The letter also demanded legal backing to constitutional freedoms of speech and association.

Penned by Li Rui, a former secretary of late supreme leader Mao Zedong, and Party elder Hu Jiwei, the letter said media organizations should be allowed to give up their role as Party mouthpieces and take on independent responsibility.

"Scars of the Past" magazine editor Tie Liu, who also signed, said of the Qiu Shi article that he believes press freedom in China is simply a matter of time.

"They won't be able to avoid it, even if they want to," Tie said. "It's just a question of whether it comes sooner or later."

He said that there is simply too much official corruption, and social injustice, and that there are too many people with grievances against the government, for the authorities to keep the lid on indefinitely.

"Ordinary people have no way to tell the truth about their lives, and if their situation isn't reflected to the higher levels of leadership, the leaders won't know about it," Tie said.

He said propaganda chiefs Li Changchun and Li Yunshan are the "public enemies" of the Chinese people.

"They will eventually be counted among the enemies of the Party as well, because what they're doing is actually burying the Communist Party," Tie said.

Constitutional freedom

The Oct. 1 letter based its argument on Clause 35 of China's constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, publication, association, and demonstration to all citizens.

In particular, it called for legal safeguards for journalists to protect them from attack or litigation in the course of their work, and for netizens to be allowed to express opinions freely online.

China's 420 million Internet users are subjected to a complex system of filters, blocks, and censorship by service providers, known collectively as the "Great Firewall," or GFW.

Chinese authorities have long kept a tight rein on media that report stories of dissent or protest against government actions, but now private companies and powerful individuals are beginning to add pressure as well.

While China's investigative reporters are emerging as a tough new breed of journalist, helping to expose official corruption, medical scandals, and public health and safety concerns, they are increasingly subject to harassment and attacks by those whose interests they harm.

Industry insiders say the majority of sensitive stories still never see the light of day.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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