Sunday, December 22, 2013

Will Hutton - Politically bankrupt China dare not tolerate freedom of the press

The intensified drive to control the media has been accompanied by the arrest, detention and interrogation over the last two months of up to 300 lawyers and human rights activists, including Xu Zhiyong, associated with the movement to expose the dazzling family wealth of the elite who run China. 

The year began with journalists from China's Southern Weekly striking because their paper had spiked a leader calling for constitutional protections for individual liberty at the behest of the local propaganda chief – and replaced it with an article praising the Communist party. It ends with the New York Times and Bloomberg, having dared to publish details of the stunning family wealth of the country's outgoing prime minister and incoming president, fearing that the one-year ban on new journalist visas to both organisations may be continued.
This is life in a one-party state, a running battle between a party apparatus fearful for its legitimacy and journalists whose craft necessarily involves disclosing information that the party would rather nobody knew. The practice of journalism in China, a country where 30 practitioners are in prison, has never been easy. During 2013, it has become a great deal harder.
A new anti-rumour law makes spreading "defamatory" information on the internet that "harms the national interest" punishable with three years' imprisonment if there are more than 500 re-posts or 5,000 internet viewers. Ren Xianliang, vice-minister of the State Internet Information Office, declares that the control of "rumours" has been "quite effective", "slander" is in decline and the flow of information is more " orderly". He is creating "cyberspace with Chinese characteristics", he helpfully explains.
Every journalist in China knows what that means. Overstep the mark and you can, like Reuters' Paul Mooney, simply have a request to have your visa renewed turned down. Mooney had dared to be too critical. For Chinese journalists, the penalties are more dramatic. You can lose your job or you can be arrested and only released once you have made a confession of your wrongs.
Thus Chen Yongzhou, a distinguished reporter on Guandong's New Express, found himself arrested in October after he had exposed alleged corruption at a local state-owned construction equipment company – Zoomlion. The police who arrested him arrived in a car owned by the company. The paper called for his release, saying that it had checked all 15 reports and could only find one trivial error. But then Chen "confessed", broadcast on TV, that he had accepted bribes from Zoomlion's competitors to write the pieces.
He may have done – bribery is endemic in China and journalists do accept bribes to write stories that help their bribers' interests. On the other hand, arrest in China is terrifying; Chen warned after three days of custody that he could only "hold out" for another 30. The "confession" was delivered before any trial and the source of the bribe has never been identified. Everyone knows that the false accounting and excessive charging for which Zoomlion was criticised is common practice in state-owned enterprises, but you also have to be careful who in power you criticise. The New Express climbed down fast.
According to Wang Qinlei, a former producer at China Central TV's top political programmes, who was fired a few weeks ago for publicly criticising its coverage of the concocted attacks on a famous social blogger, political influence is everywhere. His blog was deleted almost instantly. "In the space of a year, we get upwards of a thousand propaganda orders," he wrote. "How many of these orders were issued in the national interest and how many were issued to serve the political and economic interests of some individual, group or leader? And how often did we castrate ourselves as a result of trying to fathom the attitudes of high officials? Our leaders should understand that if the amount of news you can't report climbs too high, people won't believe the news you can report – because it's propaganda chosen with a purpose."
President Xi's response is to require every Chinese journalist to take an ideology exam early next year in order to qualify for their press cards. The manual on which the exam is based insists that journalists must not deviate from the party line and that the relationship between the party and news media is "one of leader and the led". .. read more:
See also
Chinese Journalists resist censorship: Timothy Garton Ash on The Southern Weekly affair

Looking Back at the June 4 Massacre, Twenty-Four Years on

The Crises of Party Culture: by Yang Guang
The crises of Party culture become clear with a single glance. The CPC is called the ruling party, yet it operates according to secret party rules: this is an identity crisis. Its formal ceremonies and slogans are like those of an extremist church, and it has long lost its utopian doctrine that stirred the passion of the people: this is an ideological crisis. It tells beautiful lies while accepting bribes and keeping mistresses: this is a moral crisis. The totalitarian system is in the process of collapsing, yet political reform is not in the foreseeable future: this is a political crisis. It has corrupted traditional values and also rejected universal values, rendering Party members and government officials at a spiritual loss: this is a crisis of values.