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No 'Blue Skies' for Chinese media

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  6 July 2015 12:00 AM GMT

By Hardev Sanotra

The residents of the Chinese capital are obsessed with the weather. The first thing they check in the morning on their phone application is the pollution level. And then they look out of the window. What they hope for is a ‘Blue Sky’ - a portender of sunny, pollution free day. They even have a ‘Blue Skies’ index.

But no such vivid days exist for the Chinese media. Years of prosperity and all-round development have not lifted the haze of government control over the jourlists, who either live in denial or are active believers in the state’s repeated claim that Chi is a “democratic tion”.

After decades of economic growth which has seeped to a large proportion of the society, social norms may have changed - divorce is easy, sex is no longer confined within closed doors, fashion has exploded and pride in culture has revived. But freedom of thought has not kept pace. In fact, it may even have declined, if the media - a window into the society - is any indication.

Yet, the ‘guardians of truth’ still parrot the line that Chinese jourlists are free.

“There is no interference in our freedom to write,” says Li Yun, Party Secretary of Jiefang or Liberation Daily, a Communist Party of Chi paper in Shanghai.

Li, also a director of the magazine run by the group loosely translated as ‘Against Corruption,’ says that in her eight years of experience with the Chinese daily she has seen that the “respect for jourlists had only grown because they practise ethical jourlism”.

Li, who was a gracious host to a visiting group of Indian jourlists, said the 230 jourlists and editors working in Jiefang were proud that their paper was read by the top leadership, including the prime minister. With a circulation of 400,000, it is the leading party daily in the country.

Its ‘anti-corruption magazine’ is actually a compilation of all the stories that appear on corruption across the countries, with alysis and comment by its jourlists. There is a great demand for a job with the daily. Every year, they advertise 10 positions and some 9,000 people apply for it.

“In Chi there is legal support for press freedom, just like it is in the US,” says Xia Jun, Director of Exterl Relations at the Shanghai United Media Group, which includes the Jiefang Daily, now running in its 66th year.

The daily gets about $8.5 million in support from the government. The rest it has to raise through advertisement, circulation and renting out space in the two buildings, among three, that it owns.

“My experience of 20 years in jourlism is that the government guarantees news freedom in Chi,” says Xia.

In Beijing, Deputy Director of English service, Qian Wang, at Chi.org, a news portal, says its jourlists do cover the question of corruption in Chi. Scratch the surface and you realise that much of the stories carried by the news portal on such a subject would come from either the news agency Xinhua or through what is released by the ministry of foreign affairs or other ministries.

The portal collates news from various sources on real time basis, including reports from its jourlists across the tion. But, says Qian, they work under the guidelines issued by the government. And there is no overall supervision of their work by anyone. The 400-odd jourlists who work for the portal include dozens of foreigners.

Wang Hao, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Chi Daily in Beijing, one of the few English newspapers, is more realistic. “State ownership is not in doubt. Our policy is decided in conformity with what is in tiol interest,” he told Indian Jourlists. Although they sometimes carry a full-page indepth articles on some subjects, including corruption, he concedes on being pressed that “we are not strong enough to do our own investigation”. With an editorial staff of 600 and a circulation of 300,000, its readership is largely among expat readers and Chinese learning English, especially among the young.

Wang says there is an overall “good feeling” among the Chinese about India, and they avoid sensatiolising the differences. “When a border issue flares up, we do not play it up. If the government spokesman says something, we just report it.”

Chi Daily also is spreading its wings with supplements in several languages to go with local papers in many countries. It already has English supplements circulated along with major newspapers, including the New York Times. Wang says that although the state information authorities give them the directions and background information, “we have our own sense. We make our own choices”.

Zhu Shouchen, Senior Editor and Executive Secretary of the All-Chi Jourlists Association, says that like elsewhere, newspaper readership in Chi was on the decline. He said the Association assured that jourlists follow a ‘code of ethics’ and punish those who deviate from it. Examples of punishment included jourlists who took money to write reports. But an English copy of the code was uvailable.

Zhu said there were 1,900 newspapers and about 2,000 TV stations in the country with the media employing around one million people. He said the young had shifted to the new media for their requirement of news where Weibo, the twitter equivalent in Chi, is widely popular. With the media under the government thumb, perhaps Weibo is the only mode of communication where any anti-government news goes viral within minutes, as can be understood after talking to users. Although officials are known to keep a close watch on what the citizens are discussing, it’s a couple of hours before the state cracks down on it. By then the information has spread far and wide. Perhaps that’s a door through which a glimpse of the ‘Blue Sky’ is visible, in an otherwise bleak landscape of the Chinese media. IANS

(Hardev Sanotra is in Chi at the invitation of the All Chi Jourlists’ Association. He can be contacted at hardev.sanotra@ians.in)

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