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No press freedom in China after SARS
Statement Presented to the Congressional-Executive Committee on China
Huang Ciping

Statement Presented to the Congressional-Executive Committee on China

By Huang Ciping
The Wei Jingsheng Foundation
Setember 08, 2003

No Press Freedom in China after SARS

My name is Ciping Huang. Today, I am making a statement on behalf of the Wei Jingsheng Foundation and the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, regarding the current news media and information channels being controlled by the Chinese government.

Early last spring, the China press got unexpected world attention because of SARS. The initial cover-up by the government resulted in terrible consequences including panic and many deaths in China. However, only after the disease spread overseas and caused an international outcry, was the Chinese press loosened and allowed to give out the number of deaths and related health information, trustworthy or not. As a result, kindhearted people around the world have an increased hope for Chinese press freedom. As an old saying said: a loss may turn out to be a gain; the SARS storm might bring a positive reform to the Chinese press.

Of course, the world should welcome each step of progress towards democracy and freedom, no matter how small the step might be, if only it is a sincere step. However, people must be wary of illusions or wishful thinking. Without a systematic guarantee in China, any step forward could be easily taken away by the government.

The freedom of the Chinese press has long been a goal that Chinese people have pursued. During the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement, many young people sacrificed their lives for this goal. For a short few days, the Chinese people thought they gained that freedom, only be crushed by tanks and the government propaganda machine later on. Now there are still many people both on the China mainland and abroad struggling hard to get even one private newspaper or magazine published in China. So far, has anything changed? The only one real voice to be heard in China is the voice from government. Non-governmental approved voices are cut and muted.

The sad reality is: China has not gained more press freedom since SARS.

Even during the seeming opened crack of reporting on SARS, very little attention was given to the Chinese government’s decree to “severely punish the rumor spreaders? Several dozen people were arrested for spreading the news about SARS.

In June 2003, the Chinese Communist Party Central Propaganda Department criticized more than 10 major well known newspapers and magazines, such as , , etc. The cited issues included SARS and the reporting on corrupted officials. After this criticizing, some “sensitive articles?had to be “killed?before publishing. Especially those articles reporting on Doctor Jiang (who first appealed to open truth on SARS) got tight censorship by the government and many articles were cut. Due to the new regulations, SARS reporting is not a free topic but has a very clear and disciplined line that the most journalists have no guts to cross. The forbidden topics also include: the North Korea nuclear crisis, the nuclear submarine 361 explosion case, and Zhou ZhengYi, the top corruption case in Shanghai. (See Attachment 1, all the 5 attachments are in Chinese.)

In recent months, the government has had more meetings to call for “The Reform of China Press and Publication.? The proposals included cutting the number of totally controlled newspapers, clarifying the “Party’s disciplines?and emphasizing the purpose of propaganda etc. However, as Cai YongMei, The executive editor of Hong Kong’s magazine (Kai1Fang4) analyzed: “I think the government doesn’t want to lose the control of media. Light issues and non-sensitive topics might get loosened, but serious topics, or those they think are principal issues will be held as tightly as before? (See Attachment 2)

Last month, the veil over this “reform?was finally lifted. The Chinese government finally decreed their detailed regulations without a sign of real reform. These regulations demonstrated further the hard-line face of the central government that tries to make a successful and strict control over the news media. In particular, the regulations ask for strict censorship, and include dismissing and appointing the leaders. (See Attachment 3)

Also in the summer, the Chinese news media and universities and academic/research institutes received notices from the government clearly stating prohibitions to discuss certain issues, in particular modifying the constitution, political reforms, and the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement.

We want to emphasize that China has a long way to go towards real press freedom. The root of the problem lies in the system, which has been there for over half a century under the Chinese Communists?rule. The following facts are some of our highest concerns. The problems still exist after SARS.

There is no real private press in China and no independent journalism under the Chinese Communists?one-party leadership.
So far, except for some pointless papers and local small magazines (e.g. equivalent to “how to do make-up?, China doesn’t have a single newspaper or magazine owned by a non-government agent or company. The registration of a press is a very complicated and strict step. The government at any time can easily crush a newspaper or magazine agent/company if it violates the government regulations, or even just displeases some officials.

Internet Censorship is a serious abuse of the basic human right of “right to knowledge.?If you are in China and open "google" or "yahoo", you won't be able to find many web sites that you can see in other countries. Since August 31 this year, Chinese government shutdown the search machine “google?in China again. Just before every political event, Internet become one more place for the Chinese Communists to tight their “strict strike?control. According to latest report by Central Agency, the government has 300,000 people policing the Internet, including 30,000 professional work for the National Security Department, to monitor and filter news and e-mails, to shutdown websites and to give warnings to people who make "undesirable" web pages or posts on the Internet. Unless technically specially handled, E-mails from dissidents such as me are often rerouted through the police bureau before reaching the intended recipients, and are often rejected and even be confiscated without acknowledgement. In some cases, the recipients are harassed, or interrogated by the secret police. It surely is amazing that while this government has failed to control "forbidden pornographic materials" on the Internet, it is able to put a pretty good handle on the dissident voices and even just plain news.

The censoring not only applies to the news and articles posted in foreign web sites, but also to local people who join “chat rooms? Liu Di, a 19 years old college girl, has been detained for months because of some words and essays she posted in a chat room.

Yet, this type of the censorship is just part of the integral policing system in China. As the other side of traffic, I was told by a friend whose sister worked to examine the mails from overseas that 1/3 of all mails went through inspection, beyond even “targeted mails? In addition, phone tapping is common and public knowledge in China, and is not just applied to the dissidents and activists.

Brave journalists and liberal editors often get in trouble, and some are put in prison just because they report the truth or speak from conscience.
While over all, Chinese people are the victims of the Chinese Communists?propaganda machine; Chinese news media workers are the direct victims. In the last 5 decades, many of them lost their freedom or even lives for it. One of my friends, Wu XueCan, who was an editor for People’s Daily, was put in prison and tortured after the 1989 Tiananmen movement for his effort to bring truth to the people.

Many liberal editors and reporters got laid off or even put in prison for reporting on corrupted officials, on the common people’s suffering, or just expressing (or even just allowing) a different view from the government. They make a long list. Here, I want to mention a few:

a) Gao Qinrong, a journalist who reported about corruption on the irrigation system flaw in ShanXi Province, received 13 years in prison. (Attachment 4 is an article written by Yu Jie, an established scholar in China, about Gao.)

b) Qi YanChen, editor, was prosecuted for “spreading anti-government messages via the Internet?by submitting articles to places such as the pro-democracy electronic newsletter VIP reference. He was sentenced 4 years.

c) Teng ChunYan, an American citizen and a Falun Gong practitioner, received 3 years in prison for serving as a source on Falun Gong for news organizations.

d) An Jun was the founder of the China Corruption Monitor. His writings were used as evidence of anti-state activities and he was sentenced 4 years. (Interestingly enough, An’s verdict was not announced until April 19, 2000, the day after the UN high commission on human rights failed to pass a US sponsored resolution to condemn Chinese human rights abuses.)

e) Jiang QiSheng, journalist and political dissident, just finished 4 years jail time in May for his pro-democracy articles including an essay to honor June 4 victims.

f) Huang Qi, Internet publisher and web host, is still in prison for publishing stories about human rights abuses, governmental corruptions, and 6.4 Tiananmen.

g) Yang ZiLi, etc. (4 youths), was sentenced lately (after SARS) for academic discussion.

To survive one must to speak the Party’s tongue.
It is very common for editors to have to cut some “sensitive sentences?when they review articles in newspapers or magazines. The most sensitive parts are not pornography issues, but those related to the political issues. There is no evidence for a change in this situation.

From very reliable channels, I know that the editors working in newspapers and magazines can only have part of their own minds, if they care about their life or their family’s future. They consistently have meetings to “listen to the government’s opinion? that usually announce some “important regulations?of how to report certain sensitive events. “Keep the same tone with Party?is the first rule for all journalists in China. Some of my editor friends say that they don’t have their own tongue but the Party’s tongue.

China has been rated “the second worst country for freedom of press and speech.? The bias, misleading, even false news serve for Chinese government’s agenda.
On sensitive issues, only the government will have the right to decide if the news can be opened to the public, and when and how. For example, the unemployed workers?unrest in Northeast China will be suppressed in any newspaper with the “reason?of “not disturbing the stability of the country? Early this year, in my home town, Hefei City, when thousands students took to the streets to protest the wrongful deaths of their fellow students, no reports appeared for days in the official news media even though the city residents knew something happened because of the paralyzed traffic and angry crowd.

Government events cannot be revealed on time without the Party’s control. Most of them become “top secrets? The Chinese people have little chance to know what their “people’s government?does or will do. Even foreign correspondents based in China cannot get timely news ?they face routine surveillance and need special permission for leaving their city of residence.

For important world events, even though some city people can watch the news from foreign satellite broadcasts (not very easily), most will be influenced by the media controlled to report only the news the government wants people to believe. For example, the reporting of the Iraq war was totally biased -- Saddam became a “hero?in the reports. Of course, this case is only one of many illustrating how the controlled news media has been misleading many Chinese people in an effort to realize the government’s own agenda. Dislike and even hate of America is on the agenda. One of the most noticeable expressions is that the news media becomes the government’s tool to fan up “nationalism? Many more examples can be found that cover almost all important world events, such as the North Korea Nuclear crisis, Taiwan across the Strait, and the American pilots being shot down in HaiNan, China.

The Chinese people don’t trust the news if it is presented by the Chinese government.
Chinese people do not have faith in the Chinese government. They always know that their government cheats. They do not trust the government and what it says. Yet, for fear of their lives, their freedom, and their families, most people could not and do not dare to voice their hope for a free press.

During the beginning period of SARS, Chinese people, especially those living in the big cities such as Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai, relied on the news sent by their overseas relatives. Some of my friends who worked in the USA told me that they were very busy looking for SARS news and were sending it immediately back to China so that their family members would have a timely updated true picture of the cases.

Those people who don’t have oversea relatives usually rely on BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, or other overseas media since they have less confidence on their own government’s report. Everybody knows the phrase “In China, we only have one voice.?
After SARS, Chinese people still do not have confidence in the government media, especially on political issues or other important issues.

Attachment 5 is an article on the subject that was written by an overseas Chinese who returned to China.

Foreign Investment and Internet will not bring free press to China.
Many foreigners, especially foreign investors, argue that their investment will bring freedom including press freedom to China. The Chinese government has also quietly encouraged such kind of notion, including making academics and Western politicians believe in it. On the other hand, Chinese government rightly pointed out that ‘the News Media is a special enterprise that does not follow the rule of “who invests in it, owns it? The government specifically stated that “the news media is a state enterprise?which applies to all the newspapers.

Similar ideas apply to the Internet. The Internet and advanced computer technology have become the tools for government monitoring and suppression of dissidence. It is a shame that a US company like Yahoo! has voluntarily cooperated with the Chinese government’s requirements and made the guarantee to filter contents disliked by the government. It is more a shame for Western companies to work closely with the Chinese government to create the product “Golden Shield?which blocks information transfer and tracks addresses and messages to help make state policing the best in the world. (For detail about “Golden Shield? please visit an article on DaJiYun at: What is the difference between doing these things and the exporting of high military technology to China a few years ago?

Here we urge the freedom and democracy loving American people and the US congress to examine these issues and to prevent these moneymaking deals on the price of Chinese people’s human rights and freedom.

To summarize our statement, there is no press freedom in China, even after SARS. The support and effort from the outside world will always be necessary and important. But first, we must know the real picture and what is really happening in China. Any credence or wishful belief of press freedom coming soon in China is not only concluding a wrong judgment, but also might hurt the people who have been and will be sacrificing their lives for China’s press freedom. The Wei Jingsheng Foundation and IFCSS wish you can carefully evaluate the situation based on valid facts and continuously push the Chinese government for the better.

Thank you.
Ciping Huang
Executive Director, Wei Jingsheng Foundation
Human Rights Committee Chair, IFCSS

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