Back to Index

Freedom of the press and China

Paul Simon comments on Rusty Bentley's assessment of the Chinese press: "The status of the media in mainland China is a complex topic. First I must point out that it is 100% state-owned or state-controlled. The English-language state press that Rusty mentioned is far, far from free and fair, but it's bias is mainly in errors of selection. The editors craftily choose wire service pieces that support the official PRC position, rather than planting bogus stories. That's the international coverage. The domestic end mainly features the innocuous (sports, entertainment), and lots of happy news on how socialism with special Chinese characteristics is making things better and better in every day and in every way. CCTV-9 also has lots and lots of really good features on interesting places to travel. topics. Corruption scandals can be covered only with government approval. Investigative journalism is allowed when it suits the party's agenda. Social unrest is never, never covered, nor is any editorializing or op-ed stuff contrary to the official line. The papers are full of anti-Falun-gong diatribes (anti-science, anti-life evil cult, etc) with no rebuttal ever allowed. Lurid crime stories are allowed, but only if they make it clear that the evil-doing wretches were eventually brought to justice thanks to the efficient police and procurate. The government also routinely forces the press to run stories favorable to business cronies and disparaging of enemies.

In short, it seems to most observers to be far far from free and fair. The PRC also blocks BBC and VOA radio broadcasts, severely restricts foreign correspondents, and tries to block internet sites, cable TV systems, and the distribution of foreign newspapers.

All that duly noted, there are also some really caring and dedicated reporters inside China who literally risk life and liberty in their choices of investigation and publication. They usually end up badly, but are still out there gathering information and pushing the limits. I read about 4 Chinese-language papers a day and did similarly in Shenyang; staff here also prepare summaries from other papers. My opinion is that if the title "daily" (ribao) is in the paer's name, it is 100% government-censored. The "evening news" and "weekend" (wanbao and zhoumo) papers are somewhat feistier and more daring. Also, it must be fairly said that the media in China has come a long way. Gone are the days when editorials about "hoodwinked CIA hirelings", "capitalist stooges", "Running dog lackeys" and "enemies of the people" filled the press.

If WAISers have a hankering to still see this sort of really entertaining stuff, the North Korean website (KCNA, hosted in Japan) still is chock-full of tales of "revered Father Marshall, Iron-Willed Ever-Victorious Commander Kim Il-Sung", "peerlessly vicious, nation-selling flunkey traitors" in the ROK, and sports news about Kim Jong-Il ("Architecht of the Potassium Production Miracle") getting a hole in one on all 18-holes in his first golf outing".

Ronald Hilton - 10/30/02