China and the Media
The Chinese government has always been notoriously strict on what journalists can and cannot publish. However, in the past few years, the focus has shifted from control over print media to a tightening grip on Internet journalism, in particular with blogs and microblogs.
Communism has created a menace in terms of Chinese press control. In the post-Mao era through the Cultural Revolution, state-owned media dominated the journalism sphere. During this period, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) was created to regulate not only what material was considered publishable, but also which agencies had the right to publish and distribute media.
GAPP established the first important and controlling link between the Chinese government and the media as it established journalism in the realm of a strictly controlled information system, thus creating a government business. It set the stage for the Chinese media for years to come as it set the stage for the Chinese hybrid of capitalistic communism that now defines the nation’s economy as a whole.
This is an important distinction to make, as China has now spent a decade as a member of the World Trade Organization and has become the world’s largest exporter and second largest importer – quite the achievement for a society built on communism. It is the relationship between communism and capitalism, and the fine line that China walks between these two realms that defines the relationship between its government and the media.
While the Chinese constitution technically allows for freedom of speech and press, many of their laws include vague language that authorities often use to claim that journalists and other individuals involved in the media information network are sharing state secrets. The fluctuation of media freedom has plagued the country for over half a century.
Recently, the laws surrounding journalism have become increasingly stricter. In 2008, what were previously only temporary regulations on foreign journalists became permanent. All foreign journalists have to apply for a press card before arriving in China, and once they do arrive, they must register within seven days at the Foreign Ministry both in Beijing and in the area where they will do their work.
Essentially, the purpose of the new laws allows the Chinese government to keep tabs on all foreign reporters at all times. While it cannot control what information is published outside the country, it most certainly can monitor what they are working on within the country.
It must be noted here that these laws only apply to members of foreign media organizations, not Chinese journalists. However, GAPP still exists.
In April of 2010, the Law on Guarding State Secrets was passed, followed by the white paper on Internet sovereignty the next month. These two laws shifted the focus of government control over print journalism to government control over entire information networks.
Along with regulating what was published, if the government felt that anyone was digging into whatever is considered to be a “state secret,” the government now has the right to look into the sources of the information. Internet and telephone companies now have a responsibility to cooperate in state-led investigations surrounding leaks of state secrets and the information pathways that may have led to these leaks.
These laws also reflect the shift in the Chinese government and economic system to an increasingly more capitalistic communism hybrid. While the Chinese government still maintains control over the end product, it is now gaining control over the entire network itself, just as it would gain control in a trade network. Information has become a commodity in China, and it is being pushed more and more onto the black market.
As the Chinese government creates commodities, whether on purpose or by accident, it also regulates their use and access. Their hybrid capitalism-communism system has created a monster in terms of rights to information access.
As a result of the Arab Spring in 2011, the Chinese government began to tighten control even more on the information flow. Commercial television advertisements were replaced with propaganda spots, and websites began to be blocked or shut down entirely for no apparent reason. Facebook and Twitter still remain illegal, although many citizens still access both websites by using proxies, a way to anonymously access a website while simultaneously bypassing any security blocks.
The future remains a big question mark for China. It is unclear as to whether or not the government will continue this commodification of information systems. Still the fact remains that the truth is becoming more difficult to come by, especially when drenched in government control.