Peter M. Herford: Opening China

Peter Herford teaches journalism at Shantou University, China. He writes on the Washington Post:

The earth is shifting in China in more ways than geologic.

The Internet has opened the flow of information here. The same technology the government has promoted as a way to bring education and intellectual resources to an undereducated population has also been a vehicle for challenging censorship. Today, there are far fewer secrets than in the past. News appears on the Internet within minutes of breaking, and state media are often forced to follow.

Consider the 2005 case of a tainted water supply. The city of Harbin’s 5 million inhabitants were told to drink only bottled water but were not told why. The news that a chemical factory had exploded upstream from the city was suppressed in the local media. Internet messages revealed the pollution in the region’s main river, and, soon, municipal and provincially controlled media outlets had to tell the story.

These shifts have produced a tug of war in the propaganda ministry between traditionalists, who want to maintain control and suppress bad news, and reformers, who — while not advocating unrestricted media — see the need to accept the new realities of the Internet and the blogosphere. The government maintains as much control as it can by blocking the sites from which it fears direct attacks on the government and leadership.

May 18, 2008 1:49 PM
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