At ChinaFile, Ouyang Bin talks to former Southern Weekly editor Chang Ping about the New Year censorship stand-off at the newspaper, China’s changing media climate, and prospects for reform under Xi Jinping.
Why does it seem like censorship is getting worse?
You are correct. Over the past decade, the rapid development of the Internet has led people to believe there will be more space for speech. But the constraints [on the press] have actually gotten tighter. Fortunately, journalists are resisting. Otherwise, it would be worse. Now, the government’s domestic strategy is to maintain stability. Hu Jintao once said China should learn from North Korea, and sent people to investigate the Eastern European system. Although this trend began in the Jiang Zemin era, the Hu and Wen administration furthered it, regardless of the cost. For example, they bought the most advanced Internet surveillance technology, say, from CISCO. Internet companies like Sina and Tencent have struck a deal with the authorities—or you might call it collusion. In order to secure their business interests, they spend huge amounts monitoring social media. The […] space society has carved out for free expression is being constricted. Moreover, the “stability maintenance” system is making social management crueler. For example, the way law enforcement handles petitioners and property demolition is becoming ever more gangster-like. Although the media tries to fight, it can’t be a counterweight to the giant “stability maintenance” machine.
[…] Do you think new media, such as social media, can further China’s freedom of speech?
New media by itself is a tool. What is more important is how it is used. The government definitely wants to use it to control and steer public opinion. And, indeed, they are spending hugely on it. People in society hope social media will expand the space for expression. It’s not clear how things will turn out. New media might become society’s tool if society uses it more aggressively. For instance, in the current Southern Weekend and Yanhuang Chunqiu cases, new media played an important role. Without new media, it would have been unimaginable for the propaganda department’s work to have been exposed.