In the latest example of the puzzles and paradoxes coming from China’s top leadership on the question of information openness, the vice-minister of China’s State Council Information Office — the office taking the lead in expanding censorship of the Chinese internet — told China Central Television late last week that local leaders were “naive” in trying to suppress negative news. [IMAGE: Screenshot of CCTV Website coverage of Wang Guoqing appearance].
Appearing on a CCTV talk show on July 13, Wang Guoqing said some government offices were “relatively naive” in “covering up” negative news and preventing media reporting. Addressing the recent Shanxi Kiln Affair, the official said that if local officials had revealed the truth to begin with, “I think the public would have understood, and there wouldn’t have been the kind of irrational expressions on the Internet that we saw later.”
Covering up negative news, Wang said, had become a matter of custom for many local government offices.
However, as CMP revealed last week, the Information Office has moved to more tightly control speech on the Web in the run-up to the 17th Party Congress, expected to be held in September this year.
Web censors issued an order recently saying “[Websites must] intensify public opinion guidance and management on the Internet of the Shanxi Kiln Affair … regularly release positive and authoritative information, and regularly report information about related people receiving medical treatment and being safely relocated, leading to favorable online public opinion.”
A separate order said reports other than official ones “must not be given prominent positioning (不上头条), be placed in top news sections, allow Web postings (跟帖), or be given links to special sections [devoted to coverage of the story].” Websites, it said, must “severely monitor forums, blogs, instant information and other interactive forms, and immediately delete extreme language and harmful or bad information.”
The story of Wang Guoqing’s CCTV appearance, reported last Sunday by Beijing Youth Daily and The Beijing News, became a favorite topic of newspaper editorials yesterday. In an editorial posted on rednet.cn, Sun Lizhong (孙立忠) generally agreed with Wang’s calling the cover-up of negative news “naive”, but said a number of conditions had to be met before officials were politically disincentivized to keep bad news under wraps:
Much of what is called negative news actually has positive value, and has special importance for safeguarding justice and fairness, improving the system, etcetera. To report such matters is to display the functional strength of watchdog journalism (舆论监督). At the same time, a lot of so-called negative news that “touches on the vital interests of citizens, legal persons or other organizations”, “requiring the widespread knowledge or participation of society” is also the sort of government information the government is required to take the initiative in making public under the “National Ordinance on Release of Government Information” [recently passed and due to take effect in May 2008].
Effectively implementing the law on information release is of course necessary, but relying solely on this is not enough. We also have an urgent need to set up protections for watchdog journalism by setting down and perfecting a press law and other legal systems, allowing the media to thoroughly exercise watchdog journalism. We also need to strenthen the supervisory roles of the People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress. Once the “cover up of negative news” is discovered, the People’s Congress and CPPCC representatives who speak on behalf of the people should work fast to make inquiries, find out who is responsible, recall [officials] and [employ] other means to ensure those responsible are taken to account.
Only when those [systemic issues] that need to be perfected have been perfected will “covering up” of negative news truly become a “naive” action.
[Posted by David Bandurski, July 17, 2006,12:15pm]