Freedom for the Chinese Media ?

Posted in China , Asia | 16-Aug-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

TV-tower of Shanghai - transmitting free information ?
TV-tower of Shanghai - transmitting free information ?
The status and the freedom of the media is a decisive yardstick for the internal situation of any country. In many democratic countries, the media are seen as the “fourth power” – aside from the “legislative”, “executive” and “judicial”. In some western countries, one could even get the impression that the media have reached the status of a “supreme force” that forces governments and individuals to act and react as they would like them to.

Countries with authoritarian or even dictatorial regimes do not like freely operating media – not to mention “investigative journalism”. With the media, the situation is like pregnancy – a women is either pregnant or she is not. There is no solution in between. If you let the ghost of media freedom out of the box, you cannot get it back in – without a lot of noise.

This is the situation in China. China tries to avoid the hard and dangerous decision it must make concerning the media. It tries to stimulate economic progress through a kind of market economy without giving the Chinese people and their media democratic rights – including that of a “free media”. At the moment this paradox seems to work – but for how long?

The same applies to the usage of the internet. In theory, millions of Chinese people have access to the internet. In theory, they have access to the global information world. In practice, things are different. There is a ministry which decides what kind of information is available on the internet. No one is allowed to send e-mails without official permission. The internet is a two-edged sword. In theory it allows access, in practice it is a formidable tool for tight state control. Many Chinese internet-users have been put in jail because they violated the restrictions.

What should China do? In the near future, China will arrive at a critical juncture. Intelligent and informed Chinese people will ask for more freedom in the active and passive use of the media and the internet. To keep up with global political and economic competitors, the Chinese must have these freedoms. Otherwise there will be a blockade of Chinese general development.

Computer and internet - chances and risks  in closed societies.
Computer and internet - chances and risks in closed societies.
For China, it is either time to say good bye to a rigid system of media and internet control or otherwise accept that it will lag behind in world-wide development. The future might then prove that the present economic boom might come close to an end – a fatal result, because China can only cope with huge social problems by sustaining a booming economy with an increase in GDP of 8% per year. This effect would hit China's economic partners very hard because today, China is already a decisive trade partner beyond its neighborhood.

China’s partners should encourage it to liberalize the media and the internet – even knowing that this "fourth power" will create risks for the autocratic regime.

No one is surprised that the critical analysis of the present situation of the Chinese media does not show the correct name of the author. This is part of the game.