Censorship in China Summary

It has been argued that the end of the Cold War and globalisation has made Western-style liberal press system as a universal model and no nation can free itself from the powerful influence of its universal value. Discuss this argument in the Asian context by applying relevant theoretical approaches discussed in this course. You may choose one Asian nation as a case study to address your ideas about the argument.

The Chinese Communist Party exerts near complete control over the country’s 358 television stations and 2,119 newspapers — the primary media available to more than one billion Chinese citizens. In the People’s Republic of China, there are no Chinese-language news media that are both widely accessible and independent of the government. While available to more than 100 million users, the Internet is closely monitored by the state; access to politically threatening Internet sites and web logs is blocked; uncensored satellite television is not legally available to the general public; foreign radio broadcasts are scrambled; and the sale of publications with content critical of the regime is restricted (Esarey, 2006).

Chinese Communist Party control of the media is deeply challenged by the pressures of commercialization, the journalistic profession, and globalization. For this reason, the Chinese Communist Party has increased monitoring of media personnel and news content, tightened controls over the Internet, and resorted to more frequent coercion of journalists reporting on politically sensitive topics. In democratic countries, the news media industry has independent legal status from the government. A media company’s investors are its owners; the market decides the life or death of a company, and a newspaper with no subscribers will not survive. But this international principle does not apply to China.

China’s government agencies have designated the broadcast media as a special commercial activity, and no matter who its investors are, a news provider is a publicly owned resource. As a result, all news agencies have just one shareholder, the Chinese Communist government (Quingian, 2004). Reporters Sans Frontiers compiles and publishes an annual ranking of countries based upon the organization’s assessment of their press freedom records. The report is based on a questionnaire sent to partner organisations of Reporters Sans Frontiers and its 130 correspondents around the world, as well as to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. China ranks 163rd on their Press Freedom Index, a reflection on their current media landscape

Before the slight media reforms in China, when all Chinese media were funded and controlled by the government, rights of ownership were quite straightforward. At that time, any private citizen who wanted to start a newspaper was automatically branded a criminal.

Today, generally speaking the central government controls and owns the media in China by means of political power and a series of coercive policies. Local governments, lacking the power and authority of the central government, rely on a range of control methods, including direct political control. In respect of reporters outside their jurisdiction, they exert control either directly through violence or indirectly through what Chinese officialdom commonly refers to as “saying hello” – exerting pressure on officials from the reporters’ place of origin to bring the “offending” journalists into line (Quingian, 2004).

The governments control of the local media is directed first of all at sources of information. American media scholar Melvin Mencher says “News sources are a journalist’s lifeblood. A journalist cannot do his job unless a news source tells him what happened.” The government therefore uses its power to control news sources and to restrict ordinary people from providing information to Chinese media and especially to foreign media (Quingian, 2004).

Long years of suppression have given Chinese journalists a habit of “self-discipline,” and most Chinese journalists resign themselves to playing the role of “party mouthpieces“. Even more unusually, the survival of media companies in China depends entirely on the government rather than the market. In 2003, China’s news media experienced a reform, undertaken in the name of relieving market over-supply. In affect these reforms were intended by the government to eliminate competition to national and provincial-level Party papers, and guaranteeing a minimum number of subscribers for Party-sponsored papers.

Overall, the environmental landscape for media in China has not considerably changed with regard to government control. Journalists and news organizations remain at risk of political or economic reprisal as well as criminal charges. Journalists and editors continue to respond to this environment by self-censoring their work. China’s news media, particularly newspapers, have become more market oriented, even as political controls remain in force. In July 2003, China reduced the state-run media presence, shutting down many state-owned local newspapers and eliminating mandatory subscriptions for peasants and government officials.

The major state-owned news sources were maintained, while private media outlets expanded in number. Journalists face expanding market pressures to report on subjects of interest to their readers, which has led to an increasing danger from non-government sources. The government has failed to protect journalists from these threats, and may be complicit in some of them. In the absence of a strong rule of law, and given the government’s hostile disposition regarding journalists, increases in reporting on corruption, criminal activity, and misconduct of local businesses have made journalists targets of physical attacks.

The number of these incidents has risen in the past two years. Since the 1990s, China has witnessed a period of widespread cover-ups and corruption accompanied by shocking events such as the Nandan coal mine accident in Guangxi and the Nanjing poisoning case and labour uprisings in Liaoyang, but these stories have very rarely been reported by the Chinese media.

Any report of an industrial accident, or civil unrest that appears in the press represents a hard battle by journalists to disclose it. It is difficult for non-journalists to appreciate the difficulties involved, not only in getting to the bottom of a story, but in battling the various levels of the Chinese bureaucracy. When such reports finally see light of day they typically spell the end of the journalists’ careers, or even land them in prison (Quingian, 2004).

In the current era of globalisation and rapid development of the Chinese economy, and the growing integration of China in the world market, has attracted attention from politicians, business people and academics all around the world. The changes have affected all areas of economic, social and political life.

Changes to the mass media have been among the most profound and important of the many transformations that have been going on in China over the last twenty years. China is a transforming society – introducing a capitalist market economy under a one party political regime. Both socialist and traditional Chinese values have been challenged by western ideas, channelled through the media. This makes it an interesting task to analyse the affect of globalisation on China‘s media (Lindhoff, 2005).

The media commercialization in China marks the economic development phase of the mass media. Before the media reforms, China’s mass media organizations were governmental institutions, rather than operational organizations. Program production and distribution were under strict government control without taking market needs into account. In order to keep abreast with economic transformation, China’s media has to realize commercialization (China TV Report 2004).

Media globalisation in China is going though a growth process in which foreign media are gaining a stronger position in the Chinese market. Compared to their Euro-American counterparts, Chinese media appear more ‘global’ by way of alluding to such news sources as the Qatar based TV network al-Jazeera, importing soap operas from Brazil and Venezuela, and selling pop music stars from South Korea and Japan.

However, there are restrictions on the content, like all media China and foreign media my not deliver news. There are also self imposed restrictions, given the potential for profits in China, the foreign media outlets will do nothing to provoke discomfort, amongst China’s political elites (Lindhoff, 2005). Media reforms have allowed the commercialization of media operations without privatization of media ownership. All Chinese media are owned by the state, but the majority no longer receive state subsidies and now rely on income from advertisement sales.

A few scholars argue that commercialization of media operations has acted as a freedom-inducing pressure by shifting the media’s loyalty from the party to consumers. During the negotiations on China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), European and American countries persistently demanded that China comprehensively open the fields of service trade including publication, film and television. Although so far China has not promised to open its media market, in the long run, it is expected that there will be a gradual opening of the media market to a certain degree.

Censorship of the media in China is largely seen as a measure to maintain the rule of the Communist Party of China. The government believes that censorship of the media helps prevent unapproved reformist and separatist from organizing themselves and spreading. Additionally, media censorship prevents Chinese citizens from discovering or learning more about past and current failures of the Communist Party that could create or inflame anti-government sentiment.

Measures such as the blocking of foreign news websites may also be intended to prevent citizens from learning the truth about certain situations that the Chinese government tried to cover-up. Foreign news broadcasts in China such as CNN, BBC World Service, and Bloomberg TV are occasionally censored by being “blacked out” during controversial segments.

CNN has reported that their broadcast agreement in China includes an arrangement that their signal must pass through a Chinese-controlled satellite. In this way, Chinese authorities have been able to blackout CNN segments whenever a controversial topic is covered (Vassileva 2008). Flagrant examples of suppression of news freedom abound, and by all accounts have increased since Hu Jintao came to power in 2003: In recent months, to keep tourists from avoiding the city prior to the Olympic Games to be held there in 2008, the government has ordered a media blackout on a spate of murders of taxi drivers in Beijing.

In March 2003, the spread of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China went largely unreported until the disease reached dozens of countries and the central government was forced to admit the severity of the epidemic. For hours after the September 11 attacks, Chinese media were barred from the story while Beijing debated its response to the tragedy (Esarey, 2006). Other content blacked out by the government has included references to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the Dalai Lama, the death of Zhao Ziyang, the 2008 Tibetan unrest, and negative developments about the Beijing Olympics (Reporters Sans Frontiers, 2008).

Reporters Sans Frontiers Index ranks China’s press situation as very serious, the worst ranking on their five-point scale. The index exists to serve as a global watchdog to uphold global press freedom. The index is based on surveys that asks questions about direct attacks on journalists and the media as well as other indirect sources of pressure against the free press. The survey reaches out to a wide variety of people, filling different roles such as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.

Reporters Sans Frontiers is careful to note that the index only deals with press freedom, and does not measure the quality of journalism. Due to the nature of the survey’s methodology based on individual perceptions, there are often wide contrasts in a country’s ranking from year to year (Reporters Sans Frontiers, 2008).

The Chinese government maintains significant controls on traditional information channels and is enhancing its resources to establish authority over new media. As a result, the government continues to possess a disturbing capacity to influence the opinions and perceptions of its citizens through censorship of the media. As China becomes a major player in the global economy, authorities are trying to balance the need for more information with their goal of controlling content as a means to maintain power. While there are signs that point to a change in China’s media landscape, whilst the current restrictions are in place those changes are unlikely to come to fruition. References

Lindhoff, Hakan, 2005, Media Control In Contemporary China, viewed on 18 April, 2008

2004, China TV Report, Media Commercialization Analysis, viewed on 12 April 2008,

Quingian, 2004, Media Control In China, viewed on 18 April 2008,

Vassileva, Ralitsa, 2008, China’s media crackdown (video), CNN, viewed on 14 April 2008

Reporters Sans Frontiers, 2008, News black-out Zhao Ziyang, viewed on 12 April 2008,

Esarey, Ashley, 2006, Speak No Evil: Mass Media Control In Contemporary China, viewed on 10 April 2008,