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Chinese Radio Journalist Talks About Censorship and Delayed “live” Broadcasts

Posted by Author on September 14, 2010

Reporters Without Borders, 14 September 2010 –

A Chinese journalist now living abroad agreed to be interviewed by Reporters Without Borders about her experiences as a radio station presenter and producer in China during the first half of the past decade. We decided not to name her in order to avoid endangering her in any way.

What she has to say sheds light on the increasingly complex status of Chinese journalists and how they are torn between wanting to expose the truth and not taking too many risks. It also highlights the fact that government still exercises more control over the broadcast media than the print media or Internet.

By talking about censorship as seen from the inside, she has helped improve our understanding of how it works. Reporters Without Borders thanks her for this courageous and instructive interview.

When did you work for this radio station in China?
I began working as a programme producer and presenter in 2001 and continued until 2004.

What was the Chinese government’s attitude towards the media at that time?

The station I worked for was just one among thousands of others in China. But it was representative of the situation of Chinese radio stations at that time.

Firstly you have to understand that radio stations, TV stations and newspapers are the main propaganda tools in China. So the views expressed on radio stations are controlled by the Propaganda Department. We were often censored. For example, the censorship rules were tightened and negative articles were strictly banned ever year on 4 June, which is the anniversary of both the Communist Party’s creation and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China.

These periods of stricter control were frequent. For example, during the 2008 Olympic Games, it was impossible to disseminate information about the massive destruction of housing in Beijing or the resulting complaints filed by the public.

Censorship is enforced by the Central Propaganda Department, which directly gives very explicit orders to media editors. The orders may be sent in the form of communiqués, written documents, but may also be given by telephone. These orders were usually given to the radio station managers, who in most cases were also the news editors. Those in charge passed the directives to the journalists.

Here is a typical example of a censored subject. After Beijing was chosen as the host of the 2008 Olympic Games, the authorities ordered the city’s shops to “harmonise” their names. When the Wansheng chain of bookstores refused to comply, the Beijing municipal authorities ordered their demolition. The bookstores responded by filing a complaint against the person in charge of the Beijing district of Haidian. We were forbidden to cover this kind of story.

Chinese radio stations use a system of “live” broadcasting that is not really live. Each radio station has an apparatus that delays the broadcasting of news and information. So when comments are made in a “live” broadcast that violate Propaganda Department directives, for example, comments about religion or criticism of the Communist Party, they can be blocked before transmission. So the comments of radio presenters are always filtered.

Another problem is the fact that you do not make much money from radio broadcasting in China. Many stations have other businesses and it is by promoting and advertising these businesses that the stations raise the money to keep broadcasting. This is a very common practice in China, especially as regards radio stations.

Most of the companies that advertise are pharmaceutical ones. They often produce counterfeit drugs or poor-quality drugs. I took a stand on the companies that manufacture fake medicine for profit and wrote several articles criticising such practices.

In short, China’s radio stations have two distinguishing characteristics. They are used as propaganda tool by the ruling party, and they have to be linked to another kind of business in order to pay their way.

That is why most radio station managers comply with the strict rules imposed by the authorities. Radio station journalists and managers who decide to report the truth find themselves under a great deal of pressure from the authorities or, more seriously, are just fired.

What is your view of the current state of media censorship?

The media in China are reduced to the role of propaganda tools. They do not constitute an independent platform for disseminating news and information. They are strongly marked by an ideology. That is why many journalists, including me, have been challenging this media system.

After the radio station, you went to work for an NGO. How much freedom did you have there?

I resigned as a radio journalist and joined one of the first Chinese NGOs to take an interest in ecological issues. I was in charge of writing articles about the environment.

I had come to the conclusion that the main cause of China’s problems was to be found in the obstacles imposed by the system. NGOs represent a new force that can help society to evolve. We wanted to start a movement that would help ideas and education to evolve. Several socially committed intellectuals, lawyers and journalists, myself included, took the initiative of creating an NGO that would get involved in the environment, public health, education, labour and gender equality.

We set up a system of legal assistance and training for NGOs and private individuals. One of the projects was water pollution in China. We carried out investigations in all the regions and we encouraged the local population to protest against water pollution by local authorities and private-sector companies.

But in China, there is even more government pressure on NGOs than on the media. Our NGO never managed to be legally registered. Personally, I began to be under police surveillance in 2006 and I was often “invited to have some tea” [Chinese expression for interrogation of a dissident by the police].

I was summoned twice by the police in 2010 and I was placed under house arrest for 48 hours. As I had no means of obtaining any protection, I was forced to leave China temporarily.

You now live abroad. Do you still follow what happens to Chinese journalists?

I have become a foreign-based journalist. The difference between Chinese media and western media is that, while there is no shortage of good journalists in China, censorship prevents them from reporting the information they would like to put out. I continue to closely follow what happens to Chinese journalists and I am often in contact with those are still in China.

Reporters Without Borders

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