Despite vows to liberalize its media environment for the Olympics, China has imposed further restrictions on the press. This raises serious questions about cross-strait media exchanges
The Government Information Office (GIO) yesterday refused to comment on reports showing a tightening of media controls in China and said it would maintain its plan to further open Taiwan to Chinese journalists.
Chinese social media were abuzz over the weekend after remarks by the new head of China Central Television (CCTV), who said that the first job of a journalist was to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the state, were leaked on the Internet.
Hu Zhanfan (胡占凡), who took the reins at CCTV last month, said journalists who believed they were independent professionals rather than “propaganda workers” were making a “fundamental mistake.”
Although Hu had made the comments at a special forum on “fake news” in January, they quickly spread after they were posted on a Chinese microblogging site over the weekend. Angered by signs that the media environment was failing to liberalize, some Chinese Internet users likened Hu to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
By yesterday, the posting had attracted more than 10,000 responses, though most were quickly removed by censors.
My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.
Recent discussions with China and Hong Kong-based fellow journalists compelled me to try to distinguish between what I believe are two types of media censorship regarding China, both of which rear up their ugly heads in the above article. As I discussed in a recent article, there are questions about the degree to which editorials and op-eds in state-owned Chinese media, such as the People’s Daily, reflect official policy in Beijing. Some media controlled by the state, such as the Global Times, have adopted a more aggressive stance as they seek a larger marked share, and as such may aim for a more sensationalistic editorial line. On some occasions, as on the South China Sea, editorial may appear that are more nationalistic and extremist than official Chinese policy. Such media can also serve as an echo chamber reflecting debate within the Chinese elite and government circles. In general, however, the main editorial line adopted by state-controlled media exists within parameters set by the CCP, oftentimes resulting from meetings between government officials and the editors-in-chief. In other words, we can expect state-owned media to reflect, to a fair extent, official policy in Beijing. This applies to Hong Kong-based media that are also owned by “PRC interests,” such as Wen Wei Po, Ta Kung Pao, and the Hong Kong Commercial Daily.
The other type of censorship applies to media that aren’t owned by the CCP but whose owners have substantial business interests in China, a list that includes, but isn’t limited to, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and the China Times and Want Want Bao in Taiwan. While such media are technically free of editorial meddling by Beijing, the well-being of their business interests in China is largely contingent on good relations with the CCP. Consequently, such media will usually refrain from carrying stories that are overly critical of China on human rights, Tibet, Xinjiang, the Falun Gong and Taiwan, among others. Some, either for the sake of “balance” or to please Beijing, will adopt an editorial stance that favors China, one that approximates what the editors believe Beijing wants to hear.