Party’s Media Control Capability “Weakening”

“The party’s capability to control us is weakening” (共产党控制我们的能力越来越弱), the BBC’s Mandarin website quotes a state media editor, based on an article by the Financial Times.

There had been consequences for a number of news people, when the party tried to regain control over coverage on the Wenzhou bullet train crash, the article says. Wang Qinglei (王青雷), a CCTV reporter, had been suspended from work after doubting China’s development pattern and praising those who challenged media censorship in a CCTV program. But even before the Wenzhou crash had drawn attention to censorship and the challenges it faced, the media had been in the process of becoming a force for change.

The FT report quotes Guangzhou Zhongshan University journalism professor Zhang Zhi’an (张志安) with an estimate that there were currently some 500 investigative journalists (调查记者) in China. Many students wanted to take the same path, Zhang said.

The article also points out the role of social media (社交媒体). Sina Weibo alone, a microblogging platform similar to Twitter,  had some 140 million users, and news the authorities wanted to hide spreaded quickly all the same. Reporters and editors who had been harmonized, i. e. muzzled, used Sina Weibo to speak out. A generational change was also a factor, as both in the traditional and online media industries, twenty- to thirty-year-old news people were now reaching relatively senior positions.

In total, the Financial Times quoted two professional news persons, and two journalism professors. This blogger believes that the quotes – and the FT article as a whole – express wishful thinking to quite an extent, but that to an extent hard to quantify, the policies which demand censorship seem to have faced a deteriorating environment after the Wenzhou accident. Some Chinese nationals who used to be be either cynical about or disinterested in politics have been unusually angry about the censorship measures taken on July 29 this year.

Reportedly, there had been censorship notifications from the propaganda department to journalists soon after the Wenzhou accident, too, but the one of July 29 was apparently final.

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Related

» Wenzhou, Public Reactions & Social Management, July 30, 2011
» Huanqiu: Netizens should tolerate Censorship, March 26, 2011
» This is Radio Beijing, YouTube, recording of June 3, 1989

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6 Responses to “Party’s Media Control Capability “Weakening””

  1. I do think it will be harder and harder to control the media going forward. 500 investigative reporters means 500 people conducting mini experiments into what the party will and will not tolerate. When I read publications such as Caijing or Southern Metropolis, I see that very little is sacred anymore. There are the old topics of Taiwan, Tibet, etc. Then there are the propaganda directive flavors of the month. But self-censorship effectiveness only lasts as long as people don’t know where to apply pressure to the boundaries of approved and not approved. Wenzhou was very important in this regard. It showed that, when the party is genuinely confronted by an explosive topic, if enough of the country is angry, the cost for the CCP of enforcing censorship may be higher than the party is willing to support. Clearly the path ahead is still long for the media (I share your basic opinion that the party still generally holds the official media in its grasp), but the genie might already be out of the bottle.

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  2. @Tommy. I totally agree. Many Chinese people have realized that there is no way of controlling the rumors and/or facts when the people are really interested in an incident. There are too many ways of distributing the questions that need to be answered. The CCP had not too many good answers so far. They have tried to stuff the genie back into the bottle. That is not going to work.

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  3. Provided that the CCP has everything in place to reassert as much control as it sees fit, I see nothing that would stop them from doing exactly that. Few people I know really expected the Tian An Men crackdown on June 3 (not before the end of May, anyway), but when the regime felt that only terror would move the public’s behavior in the desired direction, they did what it took to intimidate the people.

    The price of doing something similar again would be higher these days, but I have no doubt that the current and the incoming politbureaus will do what it takes to stay in control – and that the Chinese people will indeed be controlled – both by fear (of state violence, as well as of derailing “development”), and by propaganda that supports the latter fear. There are only ways of distributing questions to the authorities when you are not too afraid of distributing them. The number of people who would insist on certain liberties despite their fears would be manageable. What makes the two of you think otherwise?

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  4. There is no fear in the eyes of young students but pure confidence that the future will be theirs. I doubt that anyone will take that away.

    Its the calmness and confidence of the Chinese youth. No anger, a bit frustration and more and more knowledge how to make China a home they can be proud of and live their life in safety. Pragmatism is their religion. Most of them know that their time hasn’t come yet – but time is on their side.

    Virtually every Chinese citizen (living in the city) will own an IPhone in two to three years. Pure top-down-comunication is coming to an end worldwide. This is not just a trend. It is the biggest change in public communication since Gutenberg. The radio theory by Bertold Brecht is becoming reality.

    “Der Rundfunk wäre der denkbar großartigste Kommunikationsapparat des öffentlichen Lebens, ein ungeheures Kanalsystem, das heißt, er wäre es, wenn er es verstünde, nicht nur auszusenden, sondern auch zu empfangen, also den Zuhörer nicht nur hören, sondern auch sprechen zu machen und ihn nicht zu isolieren, sondern ihn auch in Beziehung zu setzen.”
    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiotheorie

    Chinese politicians are not prepared for the unavoidable changes in public communication we are seeing all over the world. These kids are.

    When you are forced to jump over the wall for years you will learn to jump very high.

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  5. They are pragmatists – I believe that. I believe too that the future is theirs. And they will wait for the right time. They will wait, and wait, and wait. And they will be patient. When the leaders decide that microblogs are no good and pull the plug, they will be a bit angry, and then they will say “thank you”. If only the future is theirs. Many people thank Mao to this day that he took their rice bowls away for a few years.
    You on the other hand are not very pragmatic, Kaneah.

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