August 27, 2009
The Chinese authorities permitted the domestic and foreign media to go to Urumqi, immediately after the recent riots, whereas journalists were banned from Tibet after the riots in Lhasa in March 2009. There are apparently differing views within the leadership.
The unity of China is an ongoing preoccupation of its leadership. There is a fear that the domestic media drawing wide attention to disturbances will encourage disturbances elsewhere; and the foreign media will distort the events. These concerns are understandable.
We in the west have grown to live with a media that has a dangerously large effect on today’s society and, in particular, on the politicians who lead it, a media which is frequently inaccurate and biased.
However, the media also plays an important, constructive role in exposing corruption, illegalities, environmental degradation and the like.
What then is in China’s interests? Domestically, corruption and non-implementation and non–enforcement of laws at provincial and local levels, are major challenges for Beijing. Greater freedom of the media would help the central government. It should therefore consider running the risks of misreporting in the light of the benefits which result.
I believe that the Chinese media can assist the implementation and enforcement of Beijing’s policies. Risks are involved, but so are there risks from the non-transparency frequently imposed over consumer and environmental disasters. Nothing is risk-free and a policy of ‘zero tolerance for risk’ is itself a risk.
I am confident that the Chinese leadership can devise a system permitting the reporting of these incidents but severely punishing inaccurate reporting. There appears, from a western standpoint, to be an increasing public resistance to these health incidents, public confidence is more likely to be gained by the Government and Party acting transparently, rather than by concealment.
Western media reporting on China is frequently inaccurate and biased. This is both the fault of the media and due to the difficulty in obtaining information in China on sensitive issues. It seriously damages relations between China and the West. There is a belief, widely held in China, including among the urban elites, that the western media are fundamentally hostile towards China.
This, coupled with the Chinese authorities frequently (rightly or wrongly) blaming domestic ills on foreign influence, results in a resentment towards the outside world, which is not justified, but which nevertheless restricts China’s opening up.
This subject warrants further attention by the Chinese leadership.