Censorship: Public vs. Private – Which Yields More Trustworthy Media?

how much do you trust your media

‘Moving Backward’: In Xi’s China, Some See an Era of Total Control

A decade ago, many prominent Chinese hoped that Xi Jinping would usher in openness and reform. Today, some of them believe he has created a totalitarian state. New York Times, October 18, 2022

Censorship: Public vs. Private

Some See an Era of Total Control? I don’t, and nor should you. Here’s why:

1. China has had Chief Censors for 2000 years who were usually, as now, their leading public intellectuals. Much admired scholars with a sense of humor and the capacity to explain his rulings. He publishes rules that apply to anyone with more than five thousand social media followers:

  • No infringing, fake accounts, libel, disclosing trade secrets, or invading privacy;
  • no sending porn to attract users;
  • no torture, violence, killing of people or animals;
  • no selling lethal weapons, gambling, phishing, scamming, or spreading viruses;
  • no organizing crime, counterfeiting, false advertising, empty promises or bullying;
  • no lotteries, rumor-mongering, promoting superstitions;
  • no content opposing the basic principles of the Constitution, national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity;
  • no divulging State secrets or endangering national security.

2. Whenever people complain about particular examples of censorship (they do all the time) the Chief Censor gives his reasons. In 2018, censors yanked a viral essay about the capital’s migrant workers, Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Live Here. When the indignant author asked why, the Censor replied, “This essay polarizes relations between prosperous Beijingers and the immigrants who sweep our streets and may thus inflame bad feelings towards these vulnerable people”. In 2019, netizens blamed him for not censoring enough when a female doctor committed suicide after being targeted by social media. Nor is there any scarcity of information, Says Alice L. Miller:

Virtually every topic of conceivable interest to Chinese politics and policy students now has specialist periodicals devoted to it. This diversity includes publications on previously sensitive issues like foreign affairs and military issues. Since the early 1980s, previously-restricted specialist publications dealing with various aspects of international affairs–journals such as American Studies and Taiwan Studies–and new publications such as Chinese Diplomacy became openly available. In military affairs, the Academy of Military Science’s premier journal, Chinese Military Science, became available for home delivery to Western students of the PLA. In the 1990s, PRC media began routinely to carry opinion pieces by the growing community of foreign policy. National security specialists in China frequently offered competing–even clashing–perspectives on international issues, raising fundamental questions among Western analysts about what political authority to attach to them in Beijing’s policy process… The proliferation of websites hosted by news agencies such as Xinhua has given immediate access to streams of information and commentary far surpassing anything easily accessible by traditional means.

3. The acid test: do we trust our privately censored media more than they trust their publicly censored media? Sadly, no. Public censorship wins hands down.

Everything’s censored, but public censorship with published rules beats private censorship with no rules. Surprise!

Public vs Private: how much do you trust your media

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