March 22nd, 2010
It’s a new New China and the rulers don’t like it
By Dan Kubiske
Xinhua is the official “news” arm of the Chinese government. And it translates to “New China.”
The term “new China” refers to a shift from the feudal system that ruled China for several thousands of years to one of “the people’s party.” Of course, anytime you see the term “People’s Republic” you know it is not a republic and the people have very little to do with it.
The Chinese government’s view about how the news media should behave is simple: Write what we say and promote the party and party rule. Anything else is punishable by being transferred to some backwater area, fired, fired and forbidden from ever working as a journalist again or jailed.
In the past few years there has been a loosening of the stranglehold the government has on the news media. More newspapers are allowed to report on corruption — although, it can only be about low to mid level corruption in another province — reporters are more confident about actually asking questions of government officials and expecting answers — to a point.
For Chinese journalists the whole situation is one gigantic minefield.
And for old-line party and government leaders the newness of allowing the media some leeway is too new for New China.
Great story in yesterday’s New York Times about this clash.
By SHARON LaFRANIERE and JONATHAN ANSFIELD
BEIJING — In another era, the brusque response of Li Hongzhong, the governor of Hubei Province, to a reporter’s question about a scandal on his home turf might have been the end of it.
Infuriated that the reporter would even ask about the case — in which a waitress at a karaoke bar killed a government official in self-defense — he threatened to go to her boss, seized her audio recorder and marched off, according to reports of the encounter.
But instead of fizzling out, the March 7 episode has blossomed into a cause célèbre for free-press advocates in China. In a rare display of unity, journalists, lawyers, academics and activists posted a letter of protest on the Internet demanding the governor’s resignation.
Two Communist Party elders publicly condemned his behavior. And a storm of discussion erupted online before the authorities could contain it.
The reaction of the government was predictable once public criticism of the governor — and thus the ruling Communist Party — became known outside the room where the incident happened.
They censored all Internet comments about the situation.
This is the great thing about the Internet and the new generation in China. And in a way, it is showing that increased trade does have a positive impact on the civil liberties and civil rights (and expectations of what those liberties and rights should be).
The problem is that change in China is often one step forward and two backward followed by two forward and a half step back. The party leadership is scared of anything they cannot control. This has been true of all dictatorships, communist or otherwise. And, as with all change, some deal with it better than others.
In this case, the party leader did not deal with the changes well and remembered only his party training and what media are supposed to be all about. To the Communist Party, the media are to guide public opinion the way the party wants. It is not supposed to inform the people to make up their own minds. And that attitude came out in Li’s reaction to the reporter’s question.
By all accounts, Mr. Li did not take the question well. He asked the reporter, identified as Liu Jie, which publication she represented. When she said she wrote for People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s paper of record, he exploded.
“So you’re from a party paper!” he scolded. “Is this how a party paper guides public opinion? I’m going to the chief of your paper!”
The official code of ethics of the official Chinese journalist association is not better. It tells journalists their first responsibility is to the party and government.
Now compare that attitude with the preamble to the SPJ Code of Ethics:
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.
A seriously different view of the role of journalists.
First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.