The CPC’s Media Blackout Strategy

China’s English news publications are now well funded players on the international news scene. On a daily basis they comprehensively cover a wide range of foreign and local issues from a pro-PRC perspective and can generally be relied upon in their editorials and news reports to echo the current mindset of Beijing. ‘Relied upon’, except when the issue of Chinese social disharmony and related policing matters comes to the fore; on this topic the country’s state – controlled media has taken an active role in downplaying the news. A noticeable pattern of non-recognition or the hiding and drip-feeding of worrying local events has arisen in China’s media. It is so prevalent in fact, that, now the only way to hear about Chinese social issues in any detail is through the foreign press.

Chinese issues ranging from industrial scale food poisonings, factory worker suicides, rioting, online political protest, attacks on kindergarten and school age children and even bombings have now become leading news pieces for Western papers and bloggers. Meanwhile, on the mainland these same events are either spun, ignored, underwritten or hidden in the back pages (sometimes all four across the media scpectrum) of PRC papers. Particularly puzzling are the local news events that garner no coverage in the country but are not obviously anti PRC or even political in nature. The resulting question to be asked is; is there a policy of PRC media blackouts on all internal troubles in the country?

Invariably the conclusion from outside reporters has been yes, this underreporting of local events is a deliberate policy from Beijing, a theory seemingly confirmed by a supposed online essay written by a frustrated Beijing journalist: “We’re just a bunch of shameless spectators watching these murderers take the stage one after another – and during all of this spectacle, forced to remain silent.” The CPC policy of media blackouts has become so distasteful and obvious that even the Chinese blogosphere has got involved, with some bloggers either tacitly or directly blaming the government for its its deception.

Recent Chinese news events in the foreign press but not covered or underreported by the Chinese media :

Mass suicides at Foxxcon factories.

Knife attacks on kindergartens and schools.

Jasmine revolution protests.

Terrorist strikes on government buildings and banks.

Sanlu Milk and infant formula poisonings.

A simple reading of the situation is that this subject; ‘evidence of disharmony in China’, is detrimental to the image of a government that has ‘ultimate’ control over culture and society. Beijing, as the architect of modern Chinese culture looks powerless and is also (via its monopoly on culture, education and media) directly at fault for disharmony in a way that more liberal governments aren’t. The PRC’s ongoing response to its culpability in these matters has been to attempt to shut down all discussion and diffusion of the issue or when it couldn’t; to emphasize strong government responses, deemphasize dangers and assign external blame. This behaviour will continue until a solution can be found that either solves the societal issues associated with the recent cultural changes in the China or exonerates the government of blame. Noticeably this issue has highlighted the PRC’s surprising inability to shut down these issues despite their media powers, and that it is being subjected to the kind of criticism that it was seeking to avoid, particularly at home.

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