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Internet Ushers in New Era for Chinese Censorship

Posted May. 16, 2008 08:57,   


The earthquake coverage by the Chinese media is a world away from the past where they were eager to sweep under the carpet whenever negative news broke due to the government control.

TV footages have shown the flattened towns and distressful scenes of affected areas. However, western news outlets show mixed responses. Some regard this shift in the Chinese media coverage as “a sign of openness,” while others criticize China has still a long way to go.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that authoritarian governments tend to cover up disastrous incidents. The newspaper gave good marks to the vividness and diversity of the Chinese media coverage of the earthquake.

The newspaper also reported that the Communist Party’s supreme Politburo Standing Committee instructed each news agency within hours of the occurrence of the quake not to dispatch journalists to the disaster scenes but to cite state-controlled CCTV and Xinhua news agency. But that order wasn’t followed.

Every disaster zone was bustled with journalists and the central government agency had to withdraw the censorship plan. Instead, it ordered that all frontline coverage of the disaster should "uphold unity and encourage stability" while "giving precedence to positive propaganda."

The New York Times also positively evaluated the media response to the Chinese government yesterday, saying Beijing was better in handling the situation compared to what Washington did to deal with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The newspaper said, “In the age of the Internet, the Chinese leadership is aware that the old methods of blanket censorship are not effective,” quoting a Chinese expert.

However, the Financial Times displayed a critical viewpoint to the Chinese government’s media censorship. It said in its May 15 edition, “The party still holds to the Maoist tenet that power depends on control of "two barrels": that of the gun and the pen.”

This newspaper reported that since the media coverage control instruction on May 13, there have been some changes in the Chinese media’s attitude in delivering the stories.

Government news agencies have missed no opportunity to highlight a tour of the earthquake zone by Premier Wen Jiabao and highlighted touching stories of soldiers and police officers who made sacrifices and even risked their lives to save citizens in rescue works, the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, it said a Sichuan television station had to suspend its live Internet broadcast of earthquake news, although the station had been offering much more direct reporting from the disaster zone than CCTV.

The British newspaper also reported that many Chinese netizens blamed the news coverage of the Chinese media, scornfully saying, “We are now tired of the tears of Wen Jiabao. Where on earth are the victims?”