08 January 2013
China debates media freedom
Interesting news from the People's Republic: public protests against alleged government interference with a newspaper editorial. The interesting thing about it is that the media, and by extension the government, acknowledges the issue. Once upon a time, a "totalitarian" country would tell the world that its press was perfectly free, that everyone had absolute freedom of expression. It would not be as obnoxiously honest as a paper run directly by the state, which states (in translation): "[G]iven the current state of China's society and government, the kind of "free media" that these people yearn for in their hearts simply cannot exist. All of China's media can develop only to the extent China does, and media reform must remain part-and-parcel of China's overall reform." What this means, as far as I can tell, is that the Chinese government, i.e. the Communist party, still believes in intensive regulation of all aspects of the country's "development," including the media. The argument will be rejected by anyone who believes that the development of the media isn't government's business, or that the media has no obligatory role to play in other developments. Such people will have to agree to disagree with the Chinese government. Many feel that media has a special responsibility to speak truth to power and should be as little subject to that power as possible. But this formula appropriates for "the media" what's actually the responsibility of all citizens. In the process, media itself may become "power," but who speaks truth to media? I raise the question only to remind readers that there are always two extremes in any political debate. Government interference on such a petty level as in the current Chinese case is objectionable on principle. But any law anywhere to which media might be subject is theoretically susceptible to abuse. Is the answer absolute immunity for the media, including an end to libel law? In fact, as some Chinese have noted, media is regulated everywhere. As fewer Chinese may acknowledge, media regulation in their country seems excessive. But the mere fact that we're learning about this controversy to some extent from the Chinese media itself shows that regulation there isn't as excessive as it could be or once was. This shows, however proverbially uncomfortable they may be with the idea, that these are interesting times in China.