The Freedom of Press in the PRC

The government has an overarching influence on all media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), ranging from direct editorial control of newspapers, magazines and TV/radio shows to enforcing limits on the reach of the foreign press and direct control of internet searches and accessible websites within the country.

Unsurprisingly, the most prominent news organizations on mainland China are all directly controlled instruments of the Party-State. These state-run news outlets hold the lion’s share of the market inside China and include such large syndicates as Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV.  Although independent media has emerged in China over the last two decades, independent media outlets within the PRC are not truly autonomous and are also required to follow the strict regulations set by the government, including censorship of subjects deemed as forbidden. China receives consistently low rankings in annual releases of the Press Freedom Index which cites the Chinese government as having “the sorry distinction of leading the world in repression of the Internet”.

There is no doubt that internet’s advances as a comprehensive tool for unrestrained mass communications has invited the attention of the PRC censorship offices. On the mainland, it has received strong state censorship and castration. Citing its reach and ability to disrupt ‘social harmony’, the Communist Party of China (CPC) takes just as much care to control the internet as it does its national papers and television shows.

Government imposed constraints control online media mainly via the blocking of user access to ‘subversive’ websites (most of them Western). Some banned websites include Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Amnesty International, Wikileaks, Flickr, New York Times, Huffington Post, Blogspot, Tumblr, Linkedin, IMDB, Foursquare and HumanRightsWatch. This is not the full extent of Chinese censorship, however. The PRC, through its extensive internet censorship resources (including the vaunted “Great Firewall of China”), also endeavours to block word and image searches of politically sensitive content. Complementary to this, PRC censorship officers also expend vast amounts of time and resources trawling through and censoring the blog posts of hundreds of millions of Chinese netizens.

The PRC also has a complicated and conflict-ridden past with the foreign media presence inside the country, especially when relating to sensitive Chinese political issues. Reports of harassment of the foreign press including beatings, detainments and intimidation by uniformed as well as allegedly plain-clothed police officers have added to tensions. Notably, during the highly publicized “Jasmine Revolution” protests held in 2011 , foreign journalists were obstructed on busy Shanghai and Beijing thoroughfares with reports of police beatings and other heavy handed police actions (all of which were strongly denied by Beijing). This contention has prompted the foreign media contingent to call into question the veracity of the PRC’s expanded press freedom laws, first put into place for the 2008 Olympics.

The People’s Republic of China leads the world in governmental control and involvement in media, especially online, where its presence is far reaching but shrewd. So much so, that the Chinese media sphere has been contrasted against that of the dictatorial regimes of Egypt, Libya, Iran and Syria, whose authoritarian governments were placed under severe pressure by the sudden and unrestrained use of online media. There is currently no chance of these occurrences happening in mainland China.


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