2 October 2009

Report

Sixty years of news media and censorship


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(RSF/IFEX) - In an affirmation of its authority, the Chinese government is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the creation of the People's Republic of China with fireworks and military parades but there is also a need to evaluate the past 60 years from the Chinese media's viewpoint and in the name of the Chinese people's right to be informed.

Reporters Without Borders would like to participate in this anniversary in its own way, by highlighting some dates that shed light on the media's evolution in China.

The past 60 years have been difficult for journalists, as the Maoist regime wanted to turn the media into nothing more than propaganda tools. Journalists and bloggers nowadays are no longer locked in a totalitarian grip but the censorship has never stopped. The Communist Party continues to exercise direct control over the news agency Xinhua, newspapers such as "People's Daily", and the national broadcaster CCTV.

The Chinese media enjoyed a degree of freedom before the People's Republic of China was proclaimed on 1 October 1949 but diversity of views and privately-owned media were swept away when Mao Zedong seized power. Although China's journalists had been censored by political parties, above all the Kuomintang, and by the Japanese occupying forces, there was a nascent press freedom that was crushed by the Communist Party.

Editorial freedom came to a complete halt in 1949. Intellectuals, including journalists, lived in permanent fear of arbitrary repression orchestrated by the regime until Mao's death in 1976. The toll in human lives was appalling. Many journalists were killed or "committed suicide" and for decades the public had to endure mind-numbing propaganda. Some journalists abandoned professional ethics and participated actively in the all-out promotion of the party's interests.

The record has been more varied since China embarked on its economic reforms and, overall, the situation of journalists has improved. But the increase in freedom has not so much been bestowed by a generous regime as won by journalists who have risked being fired or jailed in the process.

The Internet has offered new opportunities for journalists and bloggers since the end of the 1990s. On the one hand, the new technology is a revolutionary tool for putting pressure on national and local authorities, but it has also become a formidable propaganda tool for the government.

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