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Radio journalist discusses censorship, delayed live broadcasts

(RSF/IFEX) - 14 September 2010 - A Chinese journalist now living abroad agreed to be interviewed by Reporters Without Borders about her experiences as a radio station presenter and producer in China during the first half of the past decade. We decided not to name her in order to avoid endangering her in any way.

What she has to say sheds light on the increasingly complex status of Chinese journalists and how they are torn between wanting to expose the truth and not taking too many risks. It also highlights the fact that government still exercises more control over the broadcast media than the print media or Internet.

By talking about censorship as seen from the inside, she has helped improve our understanding of how it works. Reporters Without Borders thanks her for this courageous and instructive interview.

When did you work for this radio station in China?

I began working as a programme producer and presenter in 2001 and continued until 2004.

What was the Chinese government's attitude towards the media at that time?

The station I worked for was just one among thousands of others in China. But it was representative of the situation of Chinese radio stations at that time. Firstly you have to understand that radio stations, TV stations and newspapers are the main propaganda tools in China. So the views expressed on radio stations are controlled by the Propaganda Department. We were often censored. For example, the censorship rules were tightened and negative articles were strictly banned ever year on 4 June, which is the anniversary of both the Communist Party's creation and the proclamation of the People's Republic of China.

These periods of stricter control were frequent. For example, during the 2008 Olympic Games, it was impossible to disseminate information about the massive destruction of housing in Beijing or the resulting complaints filed by the public.

Censorship is enforced by the Central Propaganda Department, which directly gives very explicit orders to media editors. The orders may be sent in the form of communiqués, written documents, but may also be given by telephone. These orders were usually given to the radio station managers, who in most cases were also the news editors. Those in charge passed the directives to the journalists.

Here is a typical example of a censored subject. After Beijing was chosen as the host of the 2008 Olympic Games, the authorities ordered the city's shops to "harmonise" their names. When the Wansheng chain of bookstores refused to comply, the Beijing municipal authorities ordered their demolition. The bookstores responded by filing a complaint against the person in charge of the Beijing district of Haidian. We were forbidden to cover this kind of story.

Chinese radio stations use a system of "live" broadcasting that is not really live. Each radio station has an apparatus that delays the broadcasting of news and information. So when comments are made in a "live" broadcast that violate Propaganda Department directives, for example, comments about religion or criticism of the Communist Party, they can be blocked before transmission. So the comments of radio presenters are always filtered.

Another problem is the fact that you do not make much money from radio broadcasting in China. Many stations have other businesses and it is by promoting and advertising these businesses that the stations raise the money to keep broadcasting. This is a very common practice in China, especially as regards radio stations.

Most of the companies that advertise are pharmaceutical ones. They often produce counterfeit drugs or poor-quality drugs. I took a stand on the companies that manufacture fake medicine for profit and wrote several articles criticising such practices.

Read the full report

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