Tuesday, February 14, 2006
MEDIA MADNESS IN CHINA
What do you say to that? The first article below is from the Guardian. The second is from EastWestNorthSouth.
China's old guard warns censors of 'social disaster'
Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Wednesday February 15, 2006
A group of retired senior officials and academics, including Mao Zedong's former secretary, yesterday called for more openness, warning China's propaganda department that the media crackdown "could sow the seeds of disaster for political and social transition".
In a rare sign of friction between the old and new guard of the Communist party, the 13 cadres, many of whom were once leading opinion formers, said the closure last month of the pioneering liberal publication Freezing Point was a "major historic incident".
Their joint statement, published on an overseas website, was all the more remarkable because it was signed by officials who formerly helped dictate the country's propaganda policy. Among them was Hu Jiwei, the former editor of the Communist party mouthpiece, People's Daily, the former propaganda official Zhu Houze, the retired deputy head of the Xinhua news agency, Li Pu, and the former head of the China Youth Daily group, Zhong Peizhang.
In a move escalating the information war between the propaganda department and advocates of free speech, they called on the government to publish China's murky media laws, to "demolish every method of news censorship", and to protect the professional rights of the media. "Depriving the public of freedom of expression is bound to give rise to confrontation among the masses and lead to turbulence," they said.
Despite their former positions, many of the signatories have a record of refusing to be gagged. Li Rui, a former member of Mao's inner circle, was sent to a gulag in Heilongjiang province for several years because he dared criticise the disastrous policies of the Great Leap Forward.
Although it has been some years since the signatories held positions of power, it is unknown for such a group to jointly criticise the government so publicly. Zhang Sizhi, China's most famous lawyer, said those involved felt compelled to act in light of the media crackdown.
The methods of control of the propaganda department of the Communist party are anything but transparent. Chinese journalists say they get given lists of stories they cannot make public. Those that disobey risk arrest, the sack, or closure of their publications.
Yet journalists are constantly pushing the boundaries. Freezing Point, a supplement of the China Youth Daily, has published stories on official corruption and social inequality. Its editor, Li Datong, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests, issued an open letter last summer that forced the propaganda department to abandon plans for a bonus system designed to reward journalists according to how often they were praised by government officials.
The publication was shut down last month for "viciously attacking the socialist system". The editor said the authorities' actions were illegal. "This is an abuse of power by the propaganda department. It goes against the constitution." He compared the struggle over information to a guerrilla war, with the media and the authorities each probing for weaknesses on the other side.
In the past two months, censors have fired the editors of the Beijing News and the Public Interest Times. Yesterday, the government announced regulations for internet cafes and entertainment venues, barring use of any "audio and video products or electronic games that might harm national security and incite hatred toward other nationalities".
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 32 reporters are in Chinese prisons. In its 2005 world press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranked China 159th out of 167 countries.
Yesterday the Xinhua news agency reported that 115,000 members of the Communist party were punished last year for bribery, influence peddling and other offences. With thousands of often violent protests occurring in the provinces, the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, has warned of growing social instability.
An Open Letter from Li Datong (China Youth Daily Freezing Point weekly magazine editor)
A public protest against the illegal stoppage of the Freezing Point weekly magazine
Dear news media colleagues, intellectuals, legal professional friends and devoted readers of Freezing Point inside and outside of China:
On January 24, 2006, Tuesday, which the deadline for the Freezing Point weekly magazine, the Beijing editorial staff of Freezing Point worked as usual to edit and proof-read the weekly edition scheduled for January 25. At just after 4pm, we were ready with everything and the pages were forwarded to the editor-in-chief for review and print. The unusual aspect was that there was no reaction for a long while. We gathered that all the newspaper leadership had been called to the League Central Office for an emergency meeting and nobody was minding the store. This meant that something extraordinary was about to happen.
Then the skies fell down. The newspaper will be published as usual, because this is our obligation to our subscribers and readers. We looked for any possible errors and we patiently waited for the breaking event. Based on the fact that the Central Propaganda Department never ceased in their criticisms of Freezing Point and most recently the Central Propaganda Department criticism group issued an Cultural Revolution-style critique of Yuan Weishi's essay on "Modernization and Historical Textbooks" on the Internet, I suspected that it was my moment to be dismissed as the editor-in-chief.
But the contemptible level was beyond the imagination of ordinary person. At just after 5pm, the telephone calls from various media friends around the country began to arrive. They told us that they have received the notice from the Central Propaganda Department, the State Council and the Beijing News Office to "not report or comment on the stoppage of Freezing Point," "not attend any press conference given by the editorial and reporting staff of Freezing Point," "not hype," "maintain the distance" and so on. Thereafter, the overseas media reporters called non-stop to ask me to confirm the facts. But until 7pm, nobody had notified me formally. When the newspaper leadership returned from the meeting the League Central, they went into a meeting to discuss matters. I was the last person to know about this affair. All the information proved that this was something certain persons in the upper level of the party dared to risk public contempt and plotted carefully to take this action. This action had no legal or constitutional basis, and seriously violated and trampled upon the party constitution and political standards of the party.
As a professional media worker, I cannot understand the stoppage of Freezing Pont. I cannot accept this. A newspapers is a public instrument. The newspaper has a social contract with the subscribes and the readers, and it is a source of information that the readers pay money for and therefore the newspaper must fulfill its contract no matter what. Therefore, the Freezing Point weekly magazine should be delivered into the hands of the subscribers. Yet for the person who made this decision, what did the social impact mean? What does the broad readership mean? What does the reputation of a mainstream newspaper mean? What do the party constitution and the national constitution mean? What does the image of Chinese reform mean? What does the image of the governing party mean? They regard the social instrument as a personal property to be disposed of at their own will.
At 730pm in the evening, I received a call from the publisher and editor-in-chief to go and speak to them. The decision about me was made by the League Central Propaganda Department. The "decision" gave Mr. Yuan Weishi an uncalled-for label and then announced that Freezing Point will be stopped for reorganization. Apart from the personal attacks against the editor-in-chief and myself, there were also "economic sanctions." Who gave them that kind of power? They are so disgusting that I don't know whether to cry or laugh.
Of course, with the aforementioned background, this conversation was a farce. Obviously, this was controlled by a small number of people "above" in the background and the League Central was just playing the role of the fools. I used reasoning to condemn the "decision" as well as the absurdity of the Central Propaganda Department's News Criticisms. I told the publisher and editor-in-chief that I will formally complain to the party central disciplinary committee about this illegal act.
On the day when Freezing Point weekly magazine stopped publication, the newspaper received a large number of telephone inquiries from readers. I learned that readers are angrily terminating their subscriptions at the postal offices on account of the stoppage of Freezing Point.
A small number of people "above" have plotted for a long time to strangle Freezing Point. On June 1, 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the victory of the anti-Fascist war, Freezing Point published the essay on "Pingyingguan battle and Pingyingguan victory", in which we recorded the historical truth about how the Kuomintang and Communist Party worked together in the face of national survival to win the battle with their blood. This was different from the unification propaganda, because Freezing Point was the first in mainstream media to objectively report on how the Kuomintang army sacrificed tens of thousands of warriors in this battle.
This true historical account attracted the brutal criticism by the Central Propaganda Department's Criticism Group. What is the basis of their criticism? It was based upon the "XX year XX publisher's Chinese Communist Party history about the Pingyuanguan victory." The Freezing Point report "glorified the Kuomintang and debased the Communist Party." In the end, at the memorial meeting of the 60th anniversary of the victory in the anti-Fascist war, Communist Party General Secretary comrade Hu Jintao said in his memorial speech that he affirmed the contribution of the Kuomintang solders in the war of resistance against the Japanese. It was clear that who was right and who was wrong in this case.
When Lian and Soong completed their visits to Taiwan, the renowned Taiwan writer Ms. Lung Yingtai published a long essay at Freezing Point titled "The Taiwan That You May Not Know." The essay used a rich content to objectively and truthfully present to the people of China for the first time the changes and developments in Taiwan over the past few decades. It created a tremendous response and approval among readers and had an important impact on communication between the people on the two sides of the Taiwan strait. But this essay was accused by certain people within the Central Propaganda Department as being "against the Communist Party at every step" and their narrow-mindedness was truly astonishing.
On November 18, the party central held a solemn memorial for the great proletariat revolutionary Hu Yaobang's 90th birthday. Comrade Zeng Qinghong represented the Party Central Committee to pay tribute to Comrade Hu Yaobang's glorious accomplishments and he was warmly received by the people. But certain members in the Central Propaganda Department forbade the media to publish memorial articles of Comrade Hu Yaobang and required that all media can only publish the Xinhua release and nothing of their own creation.
On December 7, 2005, Freezing Point published Comrade Hu Qili's long memorial essay "The Yaobang of My Heart" and drew a tremendous response. The media inside and outside of China carried that essay. Numerous netizens posted comments to say how they had been moved to tears. About that well-received essay, the Central Propaganda Department called the newspaper to complain and claimed that the newspaper had violated rule of "not having any voluntary choice."! For those people, they felt no genuine emotion or grief over Comrade Hu Yaobang!
A small number at the Central Propaganda Department had numerous unreasonable complaints and criticisms against Freezing Point. For example, on November 30, 2005, Freezing Point published a reporter's investigation about the academic plagiarism by Wuhan law professor Zhou Yezhong. When professor Zhou was interviewed by the Freezing Point reporter, he said: "You better not mind this matter! Sooner or later, the Central Propaganda Department is going to come after you! Your editor-in-chief will come after you!" When the report was published, certain people at the Central Propaganda Department came after us and complained that the essay had major problems with editorial directions.
Under these pressures, Freezing Pont withdrew its follow-up report. On December 28, 2005, Freezing Point published a historical first weekly edition of only three pages. We ask just who the small number of people at the Central Propaganda Department were protecting?
Now, they are looking for a final accounting with Freezing Point! The essay of Mr. Yuan Weishi is just an excuse. Professor Yuan Weishi has published numerous works on contemporary history and he has great influence among intellectuals. When Professor Yuan wrote this article, it was based upon historical materials and his theoretical basis is about the rationality of openness. After the essay was published, it generated a great response. On any discussion of historical issues, it is necessary to have materials as well as viewpoints and to exchange ideas in a calm and peaceful manner in order to reach agreement. Of the many Internet commentary, even those netizens who disagreed with Mr. Yuan were very serious and their rebuttals were very solid. I have personally forwarded some of these comments to Mr. Yuan and he replied afterwards that these essays were very rigorous and he would seriously consider their viewpoints and make the appropriate responses. This is a healthy and normal kind of academic exchange. But the Central Propaganda Department Criticism Group used insults and characterizations in the style of the Cultural Revolution and then nothing else!?
This incident exposes the basic flaws in the news control system of our country. A small number of people in the Central Propaganda Department have a narrow worldview and mind and used dictatorial methods to impose controls that deaden what should be a lively political scene in which a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools speak out. These people want obedience and not equality. Which item in the party constitution of the Communist Party lets them do that?
We will write elsewhere about the flaws of our national news control system. Here, we just want to tell our colleagues, readers and friends just what had happened and why it happened. When one does not have the truth, one is afraid of debates; when one does not have the truth, one is afraid of openness. Although certain people in the Central Propaganda Department used their power to lock up all the media and websites, we believe that you will see this letter! You will know the power of truth!
We thank you sincerely!
China Youth Daily Freezing Point weekly magazine editor Li Datong
January 25, 2006