Madeline Earp: China Talks Press Rights – But it Won’t Walk the Walk

Madeline Earp of the Committee to Protect Journalists writes in the Guardian about a new report just released by CPJ looking at debates over among Chinese journalists:

Senior Communist party reformers attacked censorship in an open letter last week, but leaders at the central committee’s five-year planning session, which concluded on Monday, paid little heed. Such inconsistencies suggest that while the debate looks like a positive development, it is not a signal that information control is relaxing. In fact, use of the word “rights” may be intended to divert attention away from restrictive media policies.

News stories that cast a critical light on business owners, academics or local police for harassing reporters are sanctioned, even encouraged, by the Chinese government. At the same time, the internet, which is increasingly used by Chinese journalists to spread the word about their own tribulations, provides a vehicle for media activism.

These factors can combine to produce genuinely positive results. In September, police in Beijing arrested a prominent urologist for ordering attacks on two science writers whose reporting he believed had thwarted an academic appointment. According to one of those journalists, Caijing magazine’s Fang Xuanchang, a blog post about the attack sparked the public outcry that prompted the police to investigate.

But the worst anti-press violations in China are committed by the state. Information authorities control licensing for all news outlets, restrict news coverage of sensitive issues, and punish violators, according to CPJ research.