China’s Propaganda Department, which is under the direct orders of the country’s Communist Party, has marked the New Year with a series of directives to the media. Regarded as state secrets, they have been delivered by word of mouth to journalists at meetings where note-taking has been banned. However, Reporters Without Borders has obtained details of the instructions:
They impose a blackout on social and economic problems with a view to “reassuring” the people and defending the concept of fair growth. Many issues are off-limits, so that the party line is not challenged. They include the property market, rising prices, corruption, the demolition of housing and compulsory relocation, residence permits, the absence of social security, inadequate transport during the Chinese New Year and popular discontent that finds expression in anti-government demonstrations.
The media are forbidden to talk of major criminal affairs, now ranked according to four levels of seriousness. Quotas have been set for the publication of articles dealing with natural disasters or major accidents.
In these last two cases, the department also proposes limiting the amount of information made available by banning regional news outlets from exchanging information and journalists from answering questions from foreigners.
Reporters Without Borders is shocked by these directives, which demonstrate the scale of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to control information and impose censorship inside the country. Unfortunately this is standard practice.
For example, the Propaganda Department sent explicit instructions to news outlets in May 2010 during the Shanghai World Expo on the handling of news. These orders, which amounted to an editorial straitjacket, were a further insult to the right of citizens to be informed and a further attempt to intimate journalists.
Reporters Without Borders is also worried by the effect of these directives on defenders of free speech, who will find themselves prevented from exchanging information and sending each other news items. The directives are aimed at breaking up the networks of dissidents, human rights activists and committed citizen journalists that have grown up over the years.
When these directives are not strictly enforced, the authorities have no hesitation in resorting to censorship, violence and arrests to silence free speech activists.