Chinese Media Must Push the Limits

Cheng Yizhong, founder and former chief editor of Southern Metropolis Daily and The Beijing News who was jailed for four months in 2004 for his coverage of the Sun Zhigang case, recently gave a public talk in Hong Kong. China Media Project reports:

In his talk at the University of Hong Kong, Cheng said that the minimum responsibility for Chinese journalists should be to do as much as possible within the official limits imposed by the government and Party propaganda officials. Beyond that, “we should try to enlarge the space within the cage, and to urge authorities to fulfill the commitment of freedom of speech,” he said.

Cheng said that Chinese journalists could still accomplish much more without violating China’s constitution — which, he stressed, formally guarantees freedom of expression — and its laws. Rather than waiting for the most ideal external conditions, journalists must use their professional strengths and ideals to promote freedom of expression. Many reporting reporting restrictions in China are plainly unreasonable and even “absurd”, Cheng said, and he urged Chinese media to unite in breaking through them.

Chinese media have managed to break through restrictions for such major stories at the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the 2010 Shanghai fire, both of which were initially subject to outright bans on coverage, said Cheng.”Facing big stories like this, the [propaganda department’s] first thought is not how to report them as well and thoroughly as possible but how to cover them up,” Cheng said. “I hope in the future our media will have the courage to say NO to these backwards and absurd news bans.”

As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao issued seven important calls for political reform within a single month last year, this major news story was reported by overseas media but appeared prominently in only two Chinese newspapers. This, Cheng suggested, reflected a deficit in “political conscience, professional ideals, and courage” on the part of Chinese journalists. “Who says political reform can’t be talked about? Do they dare say so publicly?” Cheng said.

Read more about Cheng Yizhong via CDT.


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