May 13, 2010

Don't Fear Google, The Chinese Media Can Only Censor For So Long...

There are various hypotheses as to why China as the fastest developing country in the world continues to censor its media, the most common being that the Chinese Communist Party is afraid that freedom of the press will cause them to lose national political power, but there is no definitive answer. Regardless of why China continues to regulate its media, countless studies have shown that there is an implicit ideological contradiction between striving for a market economy and maintaining a regulated press because the former is about increased communication between countries, while the latter is about limiting the people’s understanding of what is occurring internationally.

So as China’s economic climate changes the way its media functions will have to transform as well. With the government wanting to maintain their national political power as much as they want international economic power and with the Chinese people as deeply committed to preserving their rich history and traditions as they are mesmerized by western technology and trends, increased internationalization will be a bittersweet process for the Chinese.

So far, the Chinese government has tried to report in a way that does not contradict their political views or those of the international community, simultaneously. When reporting hard news, they use words that prevent definitiveness such as: “probably,” “seems” and “appears.” For example, a recent broadcast by China Radio International, the only overseas radio station in China which is owned by the government, discussing Google said, “It seems that Google wants to be the so-called 'human rights defender' to score political points while being a profit-hungry entrepreneur at the same time.” In a broadcast covering the death of 153 Chinese miners working in a coal shaft that was flooded, China Radio International gave a brief explanation saying the miners had been warned when the NYtimes expressed that the working conditions were unsafe. Occasionally, when forced to choose, the Chinese media sides with the Chinese government. For example, they always speak under the assumption that Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic of China. Chinese communist party officials told CCTV-9, the only tv station in China which is also owned by the government, to broadcast “according to international norms, and foreign policy and domestic news in line with official policy.” Because China does disagree with the international community on certain political issues such as ownership of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Nepal, the Chinese government is in a catch-22. They are forced to either not discuss controversial topics and lose credibility as a reliable news source, or pick a side which contradicts their intention to broadcast “according to international norms” and “in line with official policy,” simultaneously.

The more influential China wants to becomes as an economic power, the more they will have to collaborate with the international community through honest communication and equality, neither of which are possible with a regulated press.

China was recently faced with this reality in 2009 when the World Trade Organization ruled that China “cannot limit distribution of movies, music, books, and other media to government-controlled companies,” with the exception of “objectionable content” (which is vague). They also ruled that iTunes could not be banned. China has until December 2010 to align its practices with international trade laws. If it does not, the US can ask WTO to implement commercial sanctions against China.

Soon China will be forced to make a radical decision; they will either decide if they are going to allow something they’ve been resisting for 60 years, freedom of press, for something they’ve been working for, economic growth or if they will shoot down into economic decline and maintain censorship.

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