Stanley's blog

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.

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  1. Stanley,

    I agree with most of what you’ve said, including (unfortunately) the frequent hostility of some Western media towards China. It’s particularly common among media outlets which don’t even have a correspondent in Beijing.
    And you make lots of other salient points, as usual.

    However, when you say that the Chinese media “can assist the implementation and enforcement of Beijing’s policies”, it worries me a little. I know you’re putting yourself in the shoes of the Beijing authorities here, but the function of a free media is not to help implement the govt’s agenda. It may inadvertently do so (in the case of corrupt local officials) but I hope you don’t mean this should be the raison d’etre of journalists. Apologies if I’m misinterpreting your intention here.

    Secondly, although I have more confidence in the competence of Beijing’s government than many on this side of the globe, I don’t share your confidence “that the Chinese leadership can devise a system permitting the reporting of these incidents but severely punishing inaccurate reporting”.

    Who would decide when something is “inaccurate” and meat out severe punishments? The risk for journalists is that they expose genuine corruption in the ‘wrong place’ and are sanctioned. You could perhaps propose an independent press council populated by journalists (even including an outsider?!) but there would still be question marks over its independence.

    I think China will continue to become more liberal and self-critical in its own time, but the transition could be tricky for media professionals.


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  2. Gary
    You make two pertinent points

    My argument is that an independent media will wish to expose corruption, failure to apply the law etc, and that is in the interestsof the government. But the media must decide what it publishes

    Of course, a system of control would be very difficult. Maybe I’m being too diplomatic but it’s worth a try

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