Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Propaganda Serpent Tightens More on the Journalist Neck of China in 2013

In April of this year China’s chief media regulator issued a statement outlining new regulations for media organizations. They basically boil down to the following:

News organizations may not cite foreign media without permission.
News organizations must file with authorities when setting up an official Weibo account and assign a person to insure that only kosher topics gets tweeted.
Journalists should offer proper guidance of public opinion under the principle of focusing on positive propaganda.
People without journalist permits are barred from interviewing or reporting under the name of a news organization.
Online news sites should not publish any reports from a news source, freelance writer or NGO before the facts are verified.

These directives are hardly enforceable, however they do show that with the newly minted president of China, freedom of the press won't be taking any giant leaps, or even small steps, forward.

Perhaps it has to do with the Internet you say. More and more Chinese are getting bolder because of information they can now get from overseas using their online connections. This very well may have a lot to do with it, but it's actually only a small influence. The real culprit is something which the average person outside of China has no inkling of. That is to say, there are three things you don't mess with in China: The Propaganda of the National sanctioned Press, and the People's Liberation Army, who had until only very recently, owned nearly all the best and most profitable real estate and businesses in the Chinese mainland. In fact, if it wasn't for the greatly influential former Chinese president Jiang Zemin who ruled throughout the mid 90s and early 2000s, the Army would still be in control of much of the economic purse strings. Fortunately he, along with many of his closest non-military advisers, saw the writing on the wall and began systematically retiring very powerful generals and their subordinates and took away a lot of their wealth in the process.

Even though, the Army still has  lot of influence. The city where I lived for five years, the capital of Cantonese culture and the center of business in the Pearl River Delta had a lot of the military's influence written all over the place. Many of the more outstanding high rise buildings built before 2000 are all still owned by the People's Army. In fact one day I was a bit drunk and couldn't find the exit in a very modern building that had begun to lock up for the evening. I began yelling and knocking around a few things to show my displeasure after unsuccessfully trying to exit through several different doorways. Finally after banging one of those chrome stanchions that they hang those lovely red velvet ropes on across barred entryways, a dozen men in nice dark suit suddenly appeared and attempted to thwart my rampage. I started yelling at them to get the police (in Chinese of course!) and fortunately two did show up. When I explained how I couldn't leave, the angry looking men in suits eyeballed me coldly as the police smiled and clapped me on the back, leading me to the now open door that had been previously locked. I found out later through a well connected Chinese friend that the suits had in fact been a group of former Army Intelligence Officers (read: Secret Police) who now made good money as security for the Army owned building I had thrown the fit in.

As for the Press, in the mid 2000s while I was at the height (and near my horrendous downfall) of my time in China, I found myself writing and editing for the only western language business magazine published in the region, put out by the very influential South China AMCHAM. Because of the strong American business ties, we pretty much had carte blanche on the articles. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how one looks at it, the magazine never really brushed up against forbidden topics.

I also wrote and edited for a very successful (and still I might add!) Chinese educational publishing company, overseeing the written English of 16 Chinese editors. Many times I would be called into the chief editor's office to verify some bit of story or article or subject. Even though she was well versed in "The Prime Directive" of censorship and propaganda, the 16 writers were not. The very deeply weighted propaganda that most of them wrote had to be rewritten--by me--so as to sound more authentically western in thought and style. I had a very cushy job but it bored me silly and I soon wished to drop to only part-time work which didn't sit well with them, so after a few weeks of part timing, I left for good.

Even though the company is still successful, the owner and very charismatic leader of the company was very nearly "sanctioned" and made to disappear from the news, from public, from everything for a bit of time. Why? Because some news hound happened to be around when he was giving one of his infamous lectures at a public auditorium and several middle school students were seen actually kneeling before him like he was an emperor, chanting his mantra. This did not go over well with the local or national government of China. And understand, this was my big boss! So of course they began to look into my background as well. Fortunately I had a pretty clean record, and my connection to the AMCHAM didn't hurt either.

So now it's 2013, several years since I have left, and things have not moved forward one inch. It will be interesting to see how thing turn out as China's current market and housing boom seem to be faltering  I have a feeling the snake will begin to tighten around the neck of journalistic freedom even more, if things begin to decline economically.