Media of China
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People's Republic of China
The Media of the People's Republic of China (alternatively Media of China, Chinese Media) consists primarily of television, newspapers, radio, and magazines. Since 2000, the Internet has also emerged as an important form of communication by media, and is placed under the supervision of the Chinese government.
Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and until the 1980s, almost all media outlets in Mainland China were state-run. Independent media outlets only began to emerge at the onset of economic reforms, although state-run media outlets such as Xinhua, CCTV, and People's Daily continue to hold significant market share. Independent media that operate within the PRC (excluding Hong Kong and Macau, which have separate media regulatory bodies) are no longer required to strictly follow journalistic guidelines set by the Chinese government. Hong Kong, though, is witnessing increasing complaints about self-censorship. However, regulatory agencies, such as the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), continue to set strict regulations on subjects considered taboo by the government, including but not limited to the legitimacy of the Communist Party, government policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, pornography, and the banned religious topics, such as the Dalai Lama and the Falun Gong.
Despite heavy government monitoring, however, the Mainland Chinese media has become an increasingly commercial market, with growing competition, diversified content, and an increase in investigative reporting. Areas such as sports, finance, and an increasingly lucrative entertainment industry face little regulation from the government. Media controls were most relaxed during the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping, until they were tightened in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests. They were relaxed again under Jiang Zemin in the late 1990s, but the growing influence of the Internet and its potential to encourage dissent led to heavier regulations again under the government of Hu Jintao. Reporters Without Borders consistently ranks China very poorly on media freedoms in their annual releases of the Press Freedom Index, labeling the Chinese government as having "the sorry distinction of leading the world in repression of the Internet". For 2010, China ranked 168 out of 178 nations.
The government is heavily involved in the media in the PRC, and the largest media organizations (namely CCTV, the People's Daily, and Xinhua) are agencies of the Party-State: "The first social responsibility and professional ethic of media staff should be understanding their role clearly and being a good mouthpiece. Journalists who think of themselves as professionals, instead of as propaganda workers, are making a fundamental mistake about identity," Hu Zhanfan, the president of CCTV. Media taboos include topics such as the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China, the governance of Tibet, and Falun Gong. Within those restrictions there is a diversity of the media and fairly open discussion of social issues and policy options within the parameters set by the Party.
The diversity in mainland Chinese media is partly because most state media outlets no longer receive heavy subsidies from the government, and are expected to cover their expenses through commercial advertising. They can no longer merely serve as mouthpieces of the government, but also need to attract advertising through programming that people find attractive. While the government issues directives defining what can be published, it does not prevent, and in fact encourages outlets to compete for viewers and advertising.
The era of Government control over the Mainland Chinese media, however, has not come to an end. For example, the Government utilises financial incentives to manipulate journalists. Recently, though, the Government's command over the nation's media has begun to falter. Despite government restrictions, much information is gathered either at the local level or from foreign sources and passed on through personal conversations and text messaging. This paired with the withdrawal of government media subsidies has caused many newspapers (including some owned by the Communist Party) in tabloids to take bold editorial stands critical of the government, as the necessity to attract readers and avoid bankruptcy has been a more pressing fear than government repression.
In addition, the traditional means of media control have proven extremely ineffective against newer forms of communication, most notably text messaging.
Although the government can and does use laws concerning state secrets to censor press reports about social and political conditions, these laws have not prevented the press from all discussion of Chinese social issues. As a result, even papers which are nominally owned by the Communist Party are sometimes very bold at reporting social issues. However, both commercial pressures and government restrictions have tended to cause newspapers to focus on lurid scandals often involving local officials who have relatively little political cover, and Chinese newspapers tend to lack depth in analysis of political events, as this tends to be more politically sensitive.
Among social issues first reported in the press of mainland China include the AIDS epidemic in Henan province, the unsafe state of mines in mainland China. In addition, the SARS coverup was first revealed by a fax to CCTV which was forwarded to Western news media.
In 1978, the PRC had less than one television receiver per 100 people, and fewer than ten million Chinese had access to a television set. According to a World Bank report in 2003, there are about 35 TVs for every 100 people. Roughly a billion Chinese have access to television. Similarly, in 1965 there were 12 television and 93 radio stations in mainland China; today there are approximately 700 conventional television stations—plus about 3,000 cable television channels—and 1,000 radio stations.
Television broadcasting is controlled by China Central Television (CCTV), which, with its 22 program channels, is the country's only national network. CCTV, which employs about 10,000 people and has an annual income of ¥1.12 billion yuan a year (2012,=$177 million U.S. dollars), falls under the dual supervision of the Propaganda Department, responsible ultimately for media content, and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, which oversees operations. A Vice Minister in the latter ministry serves as chairman of CCTV. The network's principal directors and other officers are appointed by the State. So are the top officials at local conventional television stations in mainland China—nearly all of which are restricted to broadcasting within their own province or municipality—that receive CCTV broadcasts.
CCTV produces its own news broadcasts three times a day and is the country's most powerful and prolific television program producer. It also has a monopoly on purchases of programming from overseas. All local stations are required to carry CCTV's 7 pm main news broadcast; an internal CCTV survey indicates that nearly 500 million people countrywide regularly watch this program.
Even if CCTV is the most powerful network of mainland China, it has only about 30% of audience share all over the national territory. The fact shows how the Chinese viewers are biased in favor of local TV programs, that are more likely to represent the differences of an audience that is the largest in the world, more than the national or even international programs, that can hardly attend the needs of such a wide public.
Since September 1, 2006, the Chinese government has banned foreign-produced animation between the hours of 5:00 to 8:00 pm on state-run television to protect struggling Chinese animation studios affected by the popularity of such cartoons.
Newspapers and journals
The number of newspapers in mainland China has increased from 42—virtually all Communist Party papers—in 1968 to 382 in 1980 and more than 2,200 today. By one official estimate, there are now more than 7,000 magazines and journals in the country. The number of copies of daily and weekly newspapers and magazines in circulation grew fourfold between the mid-1960s and the mid-to-late 1980s, reaching 310 million by 1987.
These figures, moreover, underreport actual circulation, because many publishers use their own distribution networks rather than official dissemination channels and also deliberately understate figures to circumvent taxation. In addition, some 25,000 printing houses and hundreds of individual bookstores produce and sell unofficial material—mostly romance literature and pornography but also political and intellectual journals.
China has many newspapers but the front runners are all State-run: the People's Daily, Beijing Daily, Guangming Daily and the Liberation Daily. The two primary news agencies in China are Xinhua News Agency and the China News Service. Xinhua was authorised to censor and edit the news of the foreign agencies in 2007. Some saw the power of Xinhua as making the press freedom weak and it allowed Xinhua to control the news market fully.
Much of the information collected by the Chinese mainstream media is published in neicans (internal, limited circulation reports prepared for the high-ranking government officials), not in the public outlets.
The media and communications industry in mainland China is administered by various government agencies and regulators. The principal mechanism to force media outlets to comply with the Communist Party's requests is the vertically organized nomenklatura system of cadre appointments, and includes those in charge of the media industry.
- State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television – administers and oversees the administration of state-owned enterprises involved in the radio, television and broadcasting industry.
- Ministry of Industry and Information Technology – administers the physical communications infrastructure and the Internet service providers.
- General Administration of Press and Publication – administers the newspaper, periodical, video and audio media and news industry.
- Ministry of Public Security's Cyber Police force – agency for regulating online content and investigation of Internet fraud, scams and pornography.
The media in mainland China also are becoming more autonomous and more diverse. Since Mao Zedong's death in 1976 and the subsequent emergence of Deng Xiaoping (who died in February 1997) as the country's paramount leader, an overall climate of economic and social reform in mainland China has been reflected in media content.
A prime example of the liberalisation has been the party's flagship newspaper, People's Daily, which had been rigidly controlled under Mao, used against his enemies, and copied verbatim by every other newspaper in the country during the Cultural Revolution. This leading daily was reformed and enlivened in the late 1970s and early-to-middle 1980s by then editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei. Hu expanded the paper's size and coverage, encouraged public criticism through letters to the editor, called for promulgation of a press law to spell out journalists' rights, and introduced a sprightlier writing style.
Nevertheless, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that China "continues to be the world's leading jailer of journalists," with 42 imprisoned journalists at the end of 2004, and accuses private companies, both foreign and domestic, of having been complacent toward or complicit with government censorship. Also, in their Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007 , Reporters Without Borders ranked China 163rd (or 7th from bottom) in terms of press freedom. Freedom House issued a report in 2006 claiming that the Internet is still closely monitored by the state, with access to websites and publications critical of the government being restricted, as well as foreign satellite television and radio broadcasts being censored.
In preparation of the 17th National Party Congress in 2007, new restrictions were placed on all sectors of the press, Internet-users, bloggers, website managers, foreign journalist, more than 30 of which have been arrested since the start of the year. In addition, a thousand discussion forums and websites have been shut down, and "a score of dissidents" have been imprisoned since July 2007.
In efforts to stem growing unrest in China, the propaganda chief of the State Council, Hua Qing, announced in the People's Daily that the government was drafting a new press law that would lessen government involvement in the news media. In the editorial, CPC General secretary, President Hu Jintao was said to have visited the People's Daily offices and said that large scale public incidents should be "accurately, objectively and uniformly reported, with no tardiness, deception, incompleteness or distortion". Recent reports by Chinese media indicate a gradual release from party control. For example, the detention of anti-government petitioners placed in mental institutions was reported in a state newspaper, later criticised in an editorial by the English-language China Daily. Scholars and journalists believe that such reports are a small sign of opening up in the media.
The media's growing autonomy has been reflected in their increasingly diversified content. Since the late 1970s, despite periodic reversals, media in mainland China have frequently criticized party cadres and have published debates on such fundamental issues as the rule of law, freedom of the press, and universal human rights. They also have reported on a myriad of previously untouched social and lifestyle subjects. The only inviolable restrictions appear to be an unwritten ban on challenges to the party's right to rule and to the legitimacy and decision-making authority of top party leaders.
Talk radio in mainland China allows a much freer exchange of views than other media formats. In effect, talk radio has shifted the paradigm from authorities addressing the people to people addressing the authorities. For example, until 1991 the 14 million inhabitants of Shanghai were served by only one radio station—Radio Shanghai—which primarily aired predictable, pro-government propaganda. Today, there are over 100 talk radio stations throughout the Shanghai area.
Magazines and journals
Magazines and journals published in mainland China also have become much less inhibited in their coverage. These publications appear to enjoy more freedom than newspapers, which in turn have more leeway than radio (other than talk radio) and television. Magazines now print internal police reports on jailings of religious leaders and other dissidents. The State is unwilling to shut down such publications because it worries about public reaction, is anxious to avoid drawing more popular attention to the magazines, and knows that its own resources are already stretched thin.
Chinese journalists in Hong Kong on occasion have written politically controversial articles for mainland intellectual journals without encountering problems. Such opportunities have abounded because of the range of publications on the Chinese mainland and because party officials there are too busy with weightier matters to review such journals systematically.
Greater prosperity and literacy
Mainland China's rapid economic development, as well as educational advances leading to greater literacy, have been important reasons for the dramatic expansion of the media and the diversification of coverage.
- Per capita gross domestic product, as measured in 1990 yuan, has increased fourfold since 1980. Rising disposable incomes have freed many Chinese from worrying about the basics of survival and provided them the wherewithal to purchase more television sets, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and, more recently, satellite dishes and computers.
- Rising literacy rates have produced tens of millions of additional readers in the past decade, creating ever-expanding markets for the print media. According to UN statistics, Mainland China's adult literacy rate rose from 65.5 percent in 1982 to 81.5 percent in 1995.
Ideological and political trends
Other overarching factors that are helping to make the mainland Chinese media more autonomous and diverse include a general decline in the influence of political ideologies and systems of belief; growing Chinese popular skepticism toward authority; increased contact with the West; greater competition in the media market; ebbing government resources; improved professional training for journalists; and new communication technologies.
The waning influence of Marxist–Leninist–Maoist thought has weakened the State's ability to use the media to shape public attitudes and has made it harder for the authorities to penalize the media for publishing material that is not strictly consistent with Marxist theory. Although Marxism remains the official doctrine of the PRC, the de-emphasis of ideology has strengthened the media's hand in two fundamental ways: it has helped undercut government efforts to indoctrinate the public and micromanage the content of political and social reporting in the media, and it has opened the door for the media to pursue capitalist marketing practices that respond to customer wants and bring increasing financial independence from the State.
Other practices that are emerging in mainland China, such as decision making based on verifiable data and stronger quality controls on information, also have helped dilute the impact of ideology. In a change driven by the dual need for scientists to have reliable data with which to work and for the business sector to use in making investment and commercial decisions, the State Statistical Board since the mid-1980s has gained increased power to acquire and disseminate data for media and business use, reducing or eliminating the hither to common practice in which each sector used "its own" data.
Skepticism toward authority
Although difficult to quantify, growing skepticism toward authority in mainland China appears to be spurring public support for media criticism (often indirect and carefully couched) of the State and slowly diluting the legitimacy of the party . This rise in skepticism is reported by informed observers to be occurring all across East Asia. Such observers point to increased publicity given to cases of official corruption, malfeasance, and ineptness—along with broader declines in social values such as civility and respect—as at least partly responsible for greater media and popular doubts about elected and appointed officials as compared to the past. At the same time, public skepticism of authority can and often does include skepticism toward the media themselves. Journalists, like individuals in other sectors of the mainland Chinese society, are far less willing than in the past to submit blindly to authority. Journalists were active participants in the 1989 demonstrations that culminated in the events at Tiananmen Square. The Tiananmen episode made it all but impossible to reconcile the growing desire of mainland Chinese journalists for control over their own profession with the party's interest in not letting that happen. There have even been occasional acts of open, outright defiance of the party, though these acts remain rare.
Contact with the West
Closer and more varied contact with the West appears to be increasingly influencing educated urban opinion in mainland China on concepts such as a free press, freedom of speech, and political pluralism . This phenomenon is consistent with trends elsewhere in East Asia, where principles such as freedom of expression and legal guarantees of individual rights are playing a growing role. Many mainland Chinese journalists trained or educated in the West appear to have an outlook that is much closer to Western ideals of media freedom than to the attitudes of other Chinese, although a gap persists between mainland China and the West in professionalism and in grasping the principles of objective journalism.
Virtually all foreign reporters in mainland China operate under restrictions that are considerably more severe than in most Asian countries. One result is that Western media influence on mainland Chinese media agencies as a whole is generally limited.
Intense competition for the media market is among the most important factors behind the emergence of more diverse and autonomous media in China. As indicated earlier in this study, efforts by the Chinese media to respond to an increasingly demanding print and broadcast market have created an expanding spectrum of media products ranging from serious news journalism to purely entertainment stories. Monetary rewards for meeting such demands continue to grow, resulting in greater financial autonomy for the growing numbers of Chinese media firms that win sizeable market shares. As a result, these companies are able to hire and retain more and better journalists, further boosting their capacity to compete. Commercialization thus has been a major liberating force for the media in China. The regime is far less able than before to wield financial leverage over the media, which have increasingly become self-supporting through advertising revenues and circulation. According to one estimate, advertising in all media forms increased 35-fold between 1981 and 1992. Print ad revenues jumped ten times between 1990 and 1995—from 1.5 billion yuan to 15 billion yuan.
Television revenues also are growing dramatically: they totaled about $2 billion in 1995 and are expected to rise above $6 billion by 2005. In 1995, China Central Television earned nearly $150 million in advertising revenue, covering almost 90 percent of its total costs. In the past, radio and television tended to run well behind the print press in their news coverage. More recently, television has come under market pressure to be as timely, informative, and responsive as the print media.
Competition from outside mainland China has further impelled domestic media groups to become more diverse, assertive, and skeptical of official authority. For example, in order to compete against Hong Kong radio stations that could be heard in Guangdong Province, Guangdong radio managers created Pearl River Economic Radio (PRER) in 1986. PRER, copying Hong Kong radio's approach, began to emphasize daily life, entertainment, "celebrity" deejays, and caller phone-in segments, while eliminating ideological, preachy formats that included little information beyond what was provided by government sources. By 1987, PRER had obtained 55 percent of the Guangdong market; previously, Hong Kong radio stations had held 90 percent of this market. Local party cadre in southern China reportedly are unhappy about PRER, mainly because some of the station's commentators, as well as its talk radio programs, highlight party failures and the misdeeds of individual party members in the region.
The top national Chinese Communist Party papers (People's Daily, Guangming Daily, and Economic Daily)—which mostly feature party speeches, announcements, propaganda, and policy viewpoints—are steadily losing circulation and much-sought advertising revenues to evening municipal papers that have far more diverse content. For example, People's Daily's circulation fell from 3.1 million copies a day in 1990 to 2.2 million in 1995; the paper's 1994 advertising revenues were down as well. Moreover, its subscriptions consist overwhelmingly of mandatory ones by party and government agencies. Similarly, the Liberation Army Daily has become almost entirely dependent on State subsidies. Its circulation has fallen from 1.7 million in 1981 to fewer than 500,000 at present.
By contrast, the circulation of the Xinmin Evening News, operated by the Shanghai Municipal Government, has risen from 1.3 million to 1.7 million over the same time period. The Guangzhou Daily, owned by the Guangzhou Municipal Government, doubled its circulation in six years to 600,000 in 1994, and its ad revenues also were up.
Improvements in personnel
The media also have attracted and are retaining more competent people than before. Journalism is widely seen as a more promising career field than in the past, while government work has lost much of its allure as other opportunities open up. At the same time, the explosion of business and entrepreneurial opportunities in recent years has complicated efforts by both the media and the government to attract good people. Journalism and government both face stiff competition from the relatively high salaries and profits available in the business sector. But the rising popularity and profitability of metropolitan evening newspapers offer the prospect that higher quality, better paid jobs in journalism will expand in the years ahead.
Improved training, more education, and higher professional standards are bolstering the skills and confidence of journalists across East Asia, better positioning media outlets to gain positions of influence in their societies. Although mainland Chinese journalists only recently have begun to participate in these opportunities, there is some evidence that such training is having an effect. Many of the young mainland Chinese journalists being trained at US and other universities and professional programs in the West have been characterized by their trainers as "smart," "aware," and devoted to the profession.
Beginning in the 1980s, it became necessary in most cases for reporters to have a college education, and often a university degree, to get good jobs with the top party newspapers. The highly profitable evening papers, sponsored in the main by municipal governments, usually also require a college education.
Residents of the Chinese mainland now receive more than 20 outside television channels by satellite, including Chinese-language services of CNN, Star TV, and the United States Information Agency. In the southern province of Guangdong, 97 percent of the households have television sets, and all—except those in a few parts of the city of Guangzhou, where reception is poor—have access to Hong Kong television through cable networks. Some local stations even intercept the signals and insert their own commercials. Beijing is unable to effectively monitor, let alone control, the illicit cable operators who have sprung up since the early 1990s. As of 1995, about 1,000 of the 3,000 cable stations in mainland China, linked to perhaps 50 million homes, were unlicensed.
The administration of satellite receivers falls under the jurisdiction of the State Administration for Radio, Film, and Television, which stipulates that foreign satellite televisions channels may only be received at high-end hotels and the homes and workplaces of foreigners. Foreign satellite televisions channels may seek approval to broadcast, but must be "friendly toward China." Foreign television news channels are, in theory, ineligible for distribution in China.
Home satellite dishes are officially illegal. Black market satellite dishes are nonetheless prolific, numbering well into the tens of millions. Chinese authorities engage in regular crackdowns to confiscate and dismantle illicit dishes, expressing concerns both over the potential for copyright infringements and over their ability receive "reactionary propaganda."
Widening Chinese use of the Internet is also undercutting government efforts to control the flow of information. According to CNNIC's 22nd Statistical Survey Report on the Internet Development in China, more than 250 million people in mainland China now have Internet access.
Since the beginning of 1996, the State has suspended all new applications from Internet service providers seeking to commence operations in the PRC; moved to put all existing Internet services under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Electronics Industry, and the State Education Commission; and attempted—without much success—to establish firewalls, limit the contents of home pages, and block access to certain Internet sites through routing filters. Although much of the Internet access in China is subjugate to the so-called "Great Firewall of China", which blacklists certain websites and even blocks chat sessions, it has proven relatively ineffective: there are logistical problems with a firewall over such a large network, and in most instances its effects can be negated with a simple proxy. Government officials are worried that, as the number of Chinese homes with telephone lines grows from the present level of less than 4%, the State will become totally unable to monitor Internet access at residences.
Communist Party control
Over the last decade, the ways in which the Chinese Communist Party does its business—especially the introduction of reforms aimed at decentralizing power—have spurred greater media autonomy in several ways:
- The growth of "peripheral"—local and some regional—media. This trend has decentralized and dampened party oversight. In general, the greater the distance is between reporters and media outlets, and Beijing and important provincial capitals, the greater their leeway.
- A shift toward administrative and legal regulation of the media and away from more fluid and personal oversight. Party efforts to rely on regulations rather than whim to try to control the media—as evidenced by the dozens of directives set forth when the State Press and Publications Administration was created in 1987, and by new regulations in 1990 and 1994—probably were intended to tighten party control, making it a matter of law rather than personal relationships. In fact, however, these regulations came at a time when official resources were being stretched more thinly and individual officials were becoming less willing—and less able—to enforce regulations.
- Vicissitudes of media acceptability. Since the early 1990s, the types of media coverage deemed acceptable by the regime have risen sharply. Growing uncertainties about what is permissible and what is out of bounds sometimes work to the media's interests. Often, however, these uncertainties encourage greater self-censorship among Chinese journalists and work to the benefit of the party's media control apparatus.
Provincial broadcasters increasingly are trying to identify subjects on which the party will allow them more autonomy. Recent demands—unmet thus far—by such broadcasters include seeking authority to carry international news, to contract out television and radio programming to NGOs, and to explore possibilities for quasi-private media ownership.
As State resources have become stretched more thinly, the media have found it far easier than before to print and broadcast material that falls within vaguely defined grey areas, though again, this uncertainty can also work to the advantage of the party. Officials are too few, too busy, and often too incompetent to be able to micromanage the media as in the past. Prior to the 1990s, it was common for party and government officials to participate in the actual drafting of newspaper editorials. Now, for the most part, these officials merely discuss editorial policies with newspaper managers.
In the past, prime-time news on Chinese Central Television was routinely examined, prior to airing, by the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television. Since 1994, however, the Ministry has ceased to prescreen CCTV news programs; now the programs are examined after they have aired. The diversity and quantity of material, moreover, have compelled officials to prioritize their reviews of broadcasts; the 7:00 pm news broadcasts, for instance, receive far more attention from the authorities than does the midnight news. In another manifestation of weakening government controls, recently launched news programs such as CCTV's Focal Report and Beijing Television's Express News include moderate criticisms of the party and government and explore some controversial public topics in an effort to make programs relevant to—and more popular with—viewers.
Evidently acknowledging the limits on their ability to maintain tight control over an industry that has been expanding rapidly, party leaders during the last decade have publicly addressed the need to establish priorities. In particular, they have spoken of the high priority attached to maintaining control over the "big media"—national party papers and central and provincial TV and radio stations.
Many PRC officials appear anxious to avoid confronting the media because they are afraid they will be accused of transgressions in newspapers, in magazines, or on television or radio. As media autonomy has expanded, print and broadcast organs have tried to flex their independence, albeit cautiously, in their coverage of State activities. Such coverage often focuses on specific government officials suspected of illegal actions and corruption.
Although the media's leverage stems mostly from officials' worries that rival insiders will use such publicity against them, it also appears to reflect growing respect within Chinese officialdom for the emerging influence of public opinion. A case in point is the Beijing Youth Daily. This paper has been punished for criticizing government actions and policies, but the authorities have stopped short of shutting it down.
Party resistance to media autonomy
Although the trend in mainland China clearly is toward greater media autonomy and diversity and away from government control and intimidation, crosscurrents of resistance persist. Powerful domestic institutions like the Central Propaganda Department and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television still constrain efforts by the media to become more autonomous and politically diverse.
Efforts to reinforce Party controls
Beijing still tries to compel the media to report positively on government activities and to limit negative coverage of official policies and actions. Neither the PRC Constitution—promulgated in 1982—nor the Communist Party-directed judiciary provides the media with meaningful legal protection from the State. Although Article 35 of the Constitution guarantees the citizens the rights of free speech, press, and assembly, in reality citizens do not have such rights. The authorities in Beijing continue to give precedence to the principles enunciated in the Constitution's preamble—including upholding Marxist–Leninist–Maoist thought and the party's leadership role.
The lack of an independent judiciary further hamstrings efforts by the media to mount court challenges against restrictions on media activities. The party appoints judges, and the position of the courts is merely equal to—not above—that of the bureaucracy. Media outrage over nationally publicized criminal cases can also bring pressure on members of the judiciary to act in ways that might be contrary to their initial desires and to the best interests of the defendants.
The government uses a variety of approaches to retain some control over the media:
- It requires that newspapers be registered and attached to a government ministry, institute, research facility, labor group, or other State-sanctioned entity. Entrepreneurs cannot establish newspapers or magazines under their own names, although they reportedly have had some success in setting up research institutes and then creating publications attached to those bodies.
- It still occasionally jails or fines journalists for unfavorable reporting.
- It imposes other punishments when it deems that criticism has gone too far. For example, it shut down the magazine Future and Development in 1993 for publishing two articles calling for greater democracy in mainland China, and it forced the firing of the Beijing Youth Daily's editor for aggressively covering misdeeds and acts of poor judgment by party cadre.
- It continues to make clear that criticism of certain fundamental policies—such as those on PRC sovereignty over territories under Republic of China administration and Tibet and on Hong Kong's future in the wake of the transfer of Hong Kong sovereignty on July 1, 1997 —are off limits.
- It has set up numerous official journalists' associations—the largest is the All-China Journalist Federation, with more than 400,000 members—so that no single entity can develop major autonomous power.
- It holds weekly meetings with top newspaper editors to direct them as to what news items they want focused upon and which stories they want to go unreported. The controversial closure of the Freezing Point journal was generally unreported in mainland China due to government orders.
- It has maintained a system of uncertainty surrounding the boundaries of acceptable reporting, encouraging self-censorship. One media researcher has written that "it is the very arbitrariness of this control regime that cows most journalists into more conservative coverage."
The government also exploits a longstanding hierarchical relationship among Chinese print and broadcast entities in seeking to maintain some control over the media. It appoints the leaders of the most powerful media institutions, and then uses these entities to try to dominate the rest of the media countrywide.
Official media channels
Xinhua (the New China News Agency) and People's Daily, the two most important print media, have status as separate government ministries; their directors sit on the party's Central Committee. Just below, hierarchically, are the two national newspapers under the control of the Propaganda Department – the Guangming Daily and the English-language China Daily. These entities have the rank of vice ministries, as does the State Council-controlled Economic Daily. The National Propaganda Department appoints publishers, chief editors, and other key officials of the above-mentioned newspapers—plus a few others—while provincial and local party leaders make similar appointments for party papers in their jurisdictions.
In many ways, Xinhua is the fuel propelling mainland China's print media. Perhaps unique in the world because of its role, size, and reach, Xinhua reports directly to the party's Propaganda Department; employs more than 10,000 people—as compared to about 1,300 for the UK's Reuters, for example; has 107 bureaus worldwide both collecting information on other countries and dispensing information about mainland China; and maintains 31 bureaus in China—one for each province plus a military bureau. In as much as most of the newspapers in mainland China cannot afford to station correspondents abroad—or even in every province in mainland China—they rely on Xinhua feeds to fill their pages. People's Daily, for example, uses Xinhua material for approximately 25 percent of its stories.(b) Xinhua is a publisher as well as a news agency—it owns more than 20 newspapers and a dozen magazines, and it prints in Chinese, English, and four other languages.
Like other government entities, Xinhua is feeling the pinch of reduced State financial subsidies. Beijing has been cutting funding to the news agency by an average of seven percent per year over the past three years, and State funds currently cover only about 40 percent of Xinhua's costs. As a result, the agency is raising revenues through involvement in public relations, construction, and information service businesses.
In the past, Xinhua was able to attract the top young journalists emerging from the universities or otherwise newly entering the field, but it can no longer do so as easily because of the appeal and resources of other newspapers and periodicals and the greater glamour of television and radio jobs. For example, midlevel reporters for the Xinmin Evening News often are given an apartment, whereas at Xinhua and People's Daily this benefit is reserved for the most senior journalists.
Like many other media groups, Xinhua struggled to find the "right line" to use in covering the Tiananmen Square events of April–June 1989. Although more cautious than People's Daily in its treatment of sensitive topics during that period—such as how to commemorate reformist Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang's April 1989 death, the then ongoing demonstrations in Beijing and elsewhere, and basic questions of press freedom and individual rights—Xinhua gave some positive coverage to demonstrators and intellectuals who were questioning top party leaders. Even so, many Xinhua reporters were angry with top editors for not going far enough and for suppressing stories about the Tiananmen Square crackdown. For several days after the violence on June 4, almost no one at Xinhua did any work, and journalists demonstrated inside the Agency's Beijing compound.
The role of the PRC internal media
The mainland Chinese media's internal publication system, in which certain journals are published exclusively for government and party officials, provides information and analysis not generally available to the public. The State values these internal reports because they contain much of mainland China's most sensitive, controversial, and high-quality investigative journalism.
Xinhua and many other media agencies produce reports for the "internal" journals (neicans). Informed observers note that journalists generally like to write for the internal publications—typically, only the most senior or most capable print and broadcast reporters are given such opportunities—because they can write less polemical and more comprehensive stories without having to omit unwelcome details as is commonly done in the print media directed to the general public. A Chinese historian has claimed, as an example of such self-censorship, that only a minority of China's population are aware 30 million people starved to death in the early 1960s, because the Party has never allowed the subject to be openly explored in the media. At the time, one of the Top Secret information channels through which news of what was really happening reached a select readership of high-level decision-makers was the Ministry of Public Security's Public Security Work Bulletin.
The PRC internal media publication system follows a strict hierarchical pattern designed to facilitate party control. A publication called Reference Information (Cankao Ziliao)—which includes translated articles from abroad as well as news and commentary by senior Xinhua reporters—is delivered by Xinhua personnel, rather than by the national mail system, to officials at the working level and above. A three-to-ten-page report called Internal Reference (Neibu Cankao) is distributed to officials at the ministerial level and higher. The most highly classified Xinhua internal reports, known as "redhead reference" (Hong Tou Cankao) reports, are issued occasionally to the top dozen or so party and government officials.
He Qinglian documents in chapter four of Media Control in China, There are many grades and types of internal documents [neibu wenjian 内部文件]. Many are restricted to a certain level of official – such as county level, provincial level or down to a certain level of official in a ministry. Some Chinese journalists, including Xinhua correspondents in foreign countries, write for both the mass media and the internal media. The level of classification is tied to the administrative levels of Party and government in China. The higher the administrative level of the issuing office, generally the more secret the document is. In local government the issuing grades are province [sheng 省], region (or city directly subordinate to a province) [diqu 地区or shengzhixiashi 省直辖市] and county [xian 县]; grades within government organs are ministry [bu 部], bureau [ju 局] and office [chu 处]; in the military corps ([jun 军], division [shi 师], and regiment [tuan 团]. The most authoritative documents are drafted by the Central Committee to convey instructions from CCP leaders. Documents with Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Document [Zhonggong Zhongyang Wenjian 中共中央文件] at the top in red letters are the most authoritative.
There are signs the PRC internal media publication system is breaking down as more information becomes widely available in mainland China. A Hong Kong-based political journal circulated on the Chinese mainland has questioned the need for such a system in light of mainland China's modern telecommunications and expanding contacts with the outside world. Internal publications are becoming less exclusive; some are now being sold illegally on the street and are increasingly available to anyone with money.
Some of the internal publications have changed substantially in an effort to avoid becoming obsolete. For example, the publication News Front—started in 1957 as a weekly tool for the Communist Party to instruct journalists on what to write—no longer was limited to that function when it reappeared after the Cultural Revolution. It continued to change gradually and is now a monthly publication that serves as a professional rather than political guide for journalists.
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