Censorship: Is there any kind of expression freedom in China?

The public has no longer found media space a strange concept. The concept became clearer since they got used to television and cinema. However, the emergence of the Internet has created a new kind of space, which is called cyberspace.

Cyberspace is differentiated from other kinds of media space is that is provides users more freedom, as it is a distributed network where contents are user-generated, while with mainstream media, consumers consuming information broadcasted/ written by media agencies is the way information is transmitted. Generally, we can understand mainstream media as a platform of monologue communication, while the Internet provides dialogue communication.

Due to the characteristics of the Internet, it is not only a means of personal expression; it has been widely used for democratic practices. Despite the global trend, the Chinese government applies strict censorship, not only on print media, broadcasting but also restricts use of the Internet and social networks in the whole country.

Take Facebook and Google for example. It is known that Facebook and Google are partially banned in China, instead, the government encourages people to use domestic products, particularly Weibo and Baidu in this case. Other instances are Taobao (instead of amazon.com) or Youku (instead of Youtube).

Certain websites the Chinese government considers potentially dangerous—like Wikipedia—are blocked during periods of controversy, such as the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Specific material reckoned to be a threat to political stability is also banned, including photos and search keywords.

So why do the government of China do so?

It is a common knowledge that foreign media to come to China has to go through gates of censorship, and normally, most of them are banned.

There is no particular documentation to show the reason why they do so, but while  China’s constitution affords its citizen freedom of speech and press, the opacity of media regulations allows authorities to crack down on news stories by claiming that they expose state secrets and endanger the country. CFR Senior Fellow Elizabeth C. Economy says the Chinese government media policy as it “goes back and forth, testing the line, knowing they need press freedom and the information it provides, but worried about opening the door to the type of freedoms that could lead to the regime’s downfall.”Do they afraid that the regime will collapse when freedom of information and expression exists in China?

Foreign social media appear as even bigger risks and make it harder for regulators to control the information flow. Chinese population is isolated from the rest of the world, activist like Liu Xiaobo and Jason Q.Ng have their contents censored inside the country, and any status update that related to the regime is deleted. Freedom of expression exists vaguely in China. As I look up on Google, a sex video stood at the fourth top searched in China in 2015.

Now turn to its neighbour country. I would like not to mention North Korea, as its media censorship is even tighter than that in China. I would like to talk about Vietnam, a country that has similar institution as China. The Internet was introduced quite late in Vietnam, therefore, before the Internet, the media in Vietnam was assumed as television and print newspapers only. Mainstream media were used for government propaganda also. It worked and its effect remains until today. However, we are lucky enough to not to be prohibited from the world’s flows of information. The regulations are much easier when it comes to new media. Social media are mostly used for personal purpose like updating their status, but they show their effectiveness and influences in raising people’s awareness of emerging issues and activism. It is working as a truly international public sphere.

From the example of government attempt, it can be seen that regulations shape the way the media is consumed, the way information is conveyed and also population’s awareness of the world around them. Lack of Internet freedom in China results in lack of democratic practices.

Reference:

  • Baker & Mackenzie, 2012, “Guide to Media and Content Regulation in Asia Pacific”, Communication Alliance, viewed September 28
  • Boehler, P 2015, “China’s top news searches in 2015”, The New York Times, viewed Sept 28
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