WPF Day – Swallowing Hypocritical Promises
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the World Association of Newspapers asked He Qinglian her views on how the Chinese authorities are handling the media ahead of the Olympics. He authored two seminal books, "The Pitfall of Modernization: Contemporary Economic and Social Problems of China" and "Media Control in China". She held prominent editorial and academic positions in China until she moved to the United States in 2001 where she acts as a senior researcher for Human Rights in China.
China under the Communist Party has never had a free press – just changes in the degree of control, with occasional relaxations that can be misinterpreted as ‘increased press freedom.’ For example, the Olympic commitment to allow foreign journalists to report freely left the international media full of expectations. However, this promise is being broken by the suppression of events in Tibet – allowing the world to see the truth about ‘press freedom in China.’
The all-important mission for the Chinese authorities during the Olympics is to stifle any voices or acts of discontent. At home, this will not be difficult. The print and broadcast media are used to this control, and those in charge are Party-appointees who are perfectly adept at ‘self-regulation’. The Party has made major advances in controlling the Internet – both in terms of technology and in experience. By last year individual weblogs were the only outlets for online writers who wished to voice complaints. But in January and February this year alone, more than 10,000 weblogs and many websites were closed.
The real difficulty lies in controlling foreign media reports on China. But the authorities have their means – controlling the sources of information, and interpreting calls for an Olympic boycott according to their own political needs. When Spielberg quit his role as artistic director for the Olympics Opening Ceremony, the government used the public’s lack of knowledge about the relationship between China and Sudan to arouse, among sections of the population, opposition to Western calls for an Olympic boycott.
After the unrest in Lhasa in March, China tightened control of the media in an attempt to cover the eyes of the world. Foreign journalists faced the tightest restrictions in recent times – not only were requests to visit Tibet denied, strict controls were placed on visits to Tibetan areas of provinces such as Sichuan and Gansu. Two brave reporters – Tim Johnson, chief reporter for McClatchy Newspapers in Beijing, and CBC’s senior reporter in Beijing – attempted to report from Gansu, but were quickly found and removed by security forces. And the Chinese, who have access only to official propaganda, are unaware of the tragic truths unfolding in Tibet, allowing the authorities to whip up nationalist sentiment via TV reports exaggerating cases of violence by Tibetans. In online debate ‘us Chinese’ and ‘those Tibetans’ are portrayed as having completely opposite interests, with Chinese opinion almost entirely in support of government suppression of the riots.
Faced with this situation, Western society should reflect on why it ignored the truths spoken – at personal risk – by a few brave Chinese, instead swallowing the hypocritical promises of the Party. Rather than saying a rational decision was made, it would be better to say that people were blinded by their interests.
expatica May 2008