In China, suf­fo­cat­ing the news once again

The Myanmar Times - - News -

FLOOD­ING rav­aged parts of north and east China this month. More than 150 peo­ple were killed by land­slides and surges of wa­ter. In one of the worst-hit prov­inces, He­bei, peo­ple in the town of Xing­tai, where at least 25 peo­ple died, demon­strated against the gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to warn them of the flood­ing and for in­ef­fec­tive res­cue at­tempts.

Just as the flood news be­gan to spread, China’s cy­ber-reg­u­la­tor or­dered some of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar in­ter­net por­tals to halt much of their orig­i­nal news re­port­ing. The Cy­berspace Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China de­manded that the por­tals no longer pro­duce their own jour­nal­ism and that they sim­ply re­pub­lish sani­tised ma­te­rial from Com­mu­nist Party mouth­pieces, the Peo­ple’s Daily and the news agency Xin­hua.

Th­ese two events are not un­re­lated. The profit-mak­ing web por­tals had in re­cent years not only ag­gre­gated news and run so­cial me­dia and mes­sag­ing ser­vices, but be­gun to hire good re­porters and carry out their own in­ves­ti­ga­tions, rac­ing ahead of the state-owned me­dia on top­ics such as dis­as­ters, in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion and tainted milk pow­der. For years, they op­er­ated openly but in a le­gal gray area, rush­ing out new in­for­ma­tion when they could to meet the huge de­mand for news from China’s 600 mil­lion in­ter­net users. A sim­i­lar thirst for news helped pro­pel Chi­nese so­cial me­dia out­lets into an im­por­tant role as news plat­forms when dis­as­ters struck, such as the Wen­zhou train wreck in 2011.

But now, un­der Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, the Chi­nese party-state is suf­fo­cat­ing th­ese out­lets. The latest order came July 25, in­struct­ing the web por­tals to close down four pop­u­lar news fea­tures at sites run by Sina, Sohu, Phoenix and NetEase, im­ple­ment­ing a reg­u­la­tion that was pub­lished ear­lier in the month. China has long used news cen­sors to block in­di­vid­ual broad­casts and ar­ti­cles, and dic­tate cov­er­age to re­porters and ed­i­tors, but this new order goes fur­ther, wip­ing out a whole sec­tor in which orig­i­nal news re­port­ing had been thriv­ing. The up­beat in­for­ma­tion that China’s lead­ers want to dis­sem­i­nate was am­ply dis­played by Xin­hua’s flood dis­patch, which em­pha­sised sol­diers “brav­ing the el­e­ments” to save lives, the pres­i­dent or­der­ing “all-out ef­forts to con­trol and fight floods” and China “mov­ing heaven and earth” to clean up.

This stale re­portage that does not chal­lenge the au­thor­i­ties or em­bar­rass them is what Xi had in mind in Fe­bru­ary when he made a series of high-pro­file visits to party or­gans and de­clared they must serve the party with ab­so­lute loy­alty and must “have the party as their fam­ily name”. Those that don’t want to have the Com­mu­nist Party as their fam­ily name were just un­plugged. There is no ques­tion that China’s ris­ing mid­dle class and its le­gions of in­ter­net users want un­fet­tered in­for­ma­tion and news. They just lost a valu­able source of both. But they aren’t likely to give up; prob­a­bly they will seek out and find still other chan­nels for un­cen­sored truth about their coun­try and the world. – The Wash­ing­ton Post

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