When I first thought about this task – writing weekly blog entries – I thought “great, more work”. But when I started researching possible topics, I came across several, very interesting New York Times articles that all had one topic in common: “media and news restriction in China”. Reading those, I realized how happy we “Western” students are to be able to write about everything we want and don’t need to be afraid to give our opinion. Chinese citizens aren’t that lucky.
China establishes firmer Restrictions on Reporting
The political censorship of news began many years ago, but quite a few Chinese found ways to communicate their opinions and experience nevertheless. The most recent and widely spread way of communication was blogging. The New York Times article from 10|26|2011 “China reins in Entertainment and blogging“written by Sharon LaFraniere, Edward Wong and Michael Wines describes how the Communist Party is now restricting those ways of opinion sharing as well.
For years the Chinese government has tolerated upcoming microblogs that resulted in prospering media groups and gave people the opportunity to “blow off steam”.
The reasons for the recent restrictions on media and internet freedoms are not clear. The Authors suggest “popular uprisings worldwide or the increasingly provocative tastes in TV-shows of the Chinese citizens”.
Those restrictions on media include for example the state´s dictate on the show schedule of 34 major satellite television stations, which now have to limit their entertainment shows to a maximum of two 90-minutes shows per week and are “ordered to broadcast two hours of state-approved news every evening”.
These measures go into effect on Jan. 01. According to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television these new rules are supposed to “root out excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies”.
Microblogs are threatened by new “Supervision”
Furthermore restrictions are planned on internet freedoms. Especially Twitter-like microblogs will suffer. This internet sensation enabled thousands to expose scandals and share opinions. Some of those blogs attracted millions of followers. Since those blogs are very hard to control, the Communist Party is putting pressure on private companies that manage microblogs. They demand “strict and swift censorship of unapproved opinions”. Microbloggers are now summoned to register into accounts with their real identification.
This action would definitely harm the freedom of speech, argues one microblog editor, who refused to be named.
Besides microblogs, another web communication tool gained high popularity during the past years. It is a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook and is called “Sina Weibo”. Used by approximately 30% of Chinese internet users it is one of the most popular blogs.
Microblogs and Weibo became the preferred forums of communication and unveiling scandals. The two largest are operated by the private “Sina Corporation” and the private “Tencent Holdings”, each count more than 200 million registered users, remark Sharon LaFraniere, Edward Wong and Michael Wines.
The government could easily shut down those blogs, as they did once before in 2009 for 10 months, but they won´t do that again, since microbloggers keep on finding new ways to appear.
“Song Jianwu, dean of the school of journalism and communication at China University of Political Science and Law, said Chinese leaders accepted the need for such outlets for expression. But in the case of weibos [Chinese for microblog], he added, “they are also concerned that this safety valve could turn into an explosive device.””
The Communist Party demands for more control
Senior Communist Party leaders, are increasingly concerned of the development of the microblogs, Michael Wine declares in another Times article from 11|11|2011 “China Rolls Out Tighter Rules on Reporting”. The Chinese government insists that most blog post are stating false information and planting rumors. Since these posts are read by millions, the government has now formed teams “to hunt down and fact-check rumors”. When finding the editors in question, they are suspended from their services.
At the annual meeting of the Communist Party’s leadership last month, the focus was on increasing China’s cultural reach, meaning higher influence on internet and newspaper journalism. The Party leaders demand “for increased supervision of journalism and the Internet.”
To conclude more limitations are can be expected, which will definitely constrain the freedom of speech, which already threatened. That social activists, journalists and blog editors find new ways to publish their reports is hopefully just a matter of time.
If you are further interested in this topic I can really recommend the following articles: