Chinese Officials Push for Media Freedom

Michael Wines of the New York Times:

A group of retired Communist Party officials and intellectuals issued an unusually blunt demand on Tuesday for total media freedom in China, stating that the current regime of censorship and government control of the press violates China’s constitution and debases the government’s claim to represent its citizens.

The document’s 20 signers, including academics and many former executives of China’s government-controlled press, have no public influence on the nation’s ruling coalition of Communist leaders. Some of them have issued other public demands for reform in past years, to no effect.

Still, the bluntness of their message — and its timing, coming days after the jailed intellectual Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — signaled that not all in the ruling establishment are content with the steadily tightening control over expression in the final years of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao’s leadership.

The letter’s language was notable for including an undisguised attack on the legality of censorship by the party’s Central Propaganda Department, which ultimately controls much of what is published, broadcast or posted on the Internet here.

“This is an invisible black hand,” the signers wrote of the department. “For their own reasons, they violate our Constitution, often ordering by telephone that the works of such and such a person cannot be published, or that such and such an event cannot be reported in the media. The officials who make the call do not leave their names, and the secrecy of the agents is protected, but you must heed their phone instructions.”

The “core demand,” the writers stated, was that China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, dismantle censorship procedures “in favor of a system of legal responsibility” for items that are freely published.

The harder the ruling Chinese Communist Party tries to silence dissent and criticism, the more it will force its critics public. As this happens, government critics will become more and more prominent. More than ever, the outside world is watching how the Chinese government treats its dissidents. Kerry Brown has a piece in The Diplomat in which he makes the case that China is weaker than it looks, in large part due the challenges it faces with internal democratizing forces. It’s hard to be a power while focusing so much on repressing dissent. Either the Chinese government will learn to embrace its internal critics or, eventually, these democracy advocates will eventually push out the Chinese Communist Party and force a change in government.

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