19 years after Tiananmen, still no real freedom of the press in China

Our novel Rabbit in the Moon deals with the Democracy Movement of 1989 when students and ordinary citizens rose up to demand reform. Sadly, that ended in a massacre at Tiananmen Square. Nineteen years later, while there has been much change including a certain economic freedom, the Chinese government is still cracking down on freedom of the press. Below is an online report from CaféSentido.com, a digital imprint of Casavaria Publishing.

16 December 2008:: J.E. Robertson

The Communist party government of China has resumed blocking some websites it had unblocked as a gesture of good will, after foreign reporters complained during the Olympics that certain foreign information sources were not available to them. The BBC and Reporters without Borders (RSF) report their sites being blocked, and the Chinese government says sites that contain information sympathetic to Tibetan or Taiwanese independence movements cannot be allowed to be read in China.

President Hu Jintao has, it seems, resumed his “smokeless war” on press freedom, which he announced soon after being named to his office. The campaign of censorship began with the arrest of “dissident” reporters critical of the Chinese state, the mass shutting down of Internet cafés, usually on the grounds of fire or building codes and public safety, and demanding the collaboration of foreign media giants in “filtering” undesirable terms from web searches, like “Tiananmen Square massacre”, “student uprising” and “free Tibet”.

RSF today condemned the Chinese government’s renewed constraints on media freedoms in a press release:

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s censorship of the websites of certain foreign news media such as Voice of America and the BBC and certain Chinese media based outside mainland China, which have been rendered inaccessible inside China since the start of December.

“Freedom of information is widely violated in China,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Right now, the authorities are gradually rolling back all the progress made in the run-up to this summer’s Olympic games, when even foreign websites in Mandarin were made accessible. The pretence of liberalisation is now over. The blocking of access to the websites of foreign news media speaks volumes about the government’s intolerance. We urge the authorities to unblock them again.”

Among the reasons suspected for the sudden retrenchment of Hu’s efforts to gain total control of Chinese media are events or potential commemorations that could cause unrest in China in 2009. June 2009 will mark the 20th anniversary of the student uprising that ended with the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event the Chinese government still openly aims to erase from Chinese historical consciousness. 2009 will also mark the 50th anniversary of China’s seizing control of all of territorial Tibet. The government may fear that both could lead to civil unrest.

But there is also the issue of China’s economic situation. Long the leading light in east Asia’s booming economies, China is now suffering as its main manunfacturing sales markets overseas, the United States and the European Union, suffering deepending economic and credit troubles, undermining business funding, credit for industrial production, and demand for retail conumser goods. There is a rising rate of unemployment and some fear regional ethnic strife and anti-government movements could be inflamed by economic hardship, especially if the impression spreads that the regime is dealing ineffectively with the problems facing the nation.