China's propaganda machine
Kathie Wu: China's propaganda machine
14 Apr 10

Two Chinese newspapers — the Chongqing Times and West China City Daily —  have been forced to make public apologies after publishing exposés on a recent Chinese Writers’ Association (CWA) meeting. The papers alleged attendees at the Seventh Congress of the CWA stayed in the presidential suites of a five star hotel, ate at lavish banquets and were “whisked away from the airport in Audis”. The CWA hit back, providing a receipt from the Sofitel hotel in an attempt to prove their expenses were moderated, although the receipt was dated 2 April, despite the fact that the event ran from 30 March – 4 April.

The reporter who wrote the original story has now been sacked, and various other staff at the Chongqing Times have also been disciplined and demoted. In a front page apology published on 11 April, the Chongqing Times extolled the virtues of the CWA, promising to “vigorously promote the great efforts of the Chinese Writers’ Association and its authors, whose excellent work reflects society, eulogises our era, [and] enriches the cultural life of the masses”. At the same time, it berated its editors for not “reporting fully on the grand spectacle of this conference, publicising its fruitful accomplishments” and having

a weak political sensitivity and lack[ing] a sense of political responsibility… causing irreparable harm to the Chinese Writers’ Association and the writers attending the conference. This lesson has been profound, and we express our deep sorrow and remorse.

Meanwhile, in order to cultivate an image of a nation of growing “openness” and “transparency”, Xinhua News Agency yesterday published an in-depth interview with the deputy chief of the government’s Internet Affairs Bureau, Liu Zhengrong. The bureau Liu manages is responsible for internet censorship and conversation centred around the development of online media and technology in China. While many aspects were positive, one in particular held a disturbingly chilling tone.

In one section entitled “There is no absolute freedom on the internet”, Liu states that every nation in the world maintains control over internet content and access; he claims that the measures taken by China are no different from those of any others. Although this is true to some extent, no other country has an institutionalised national filtering system as extensive as the Great Firewall, or imprisons the same number of bloggers and netizens.

In order to protect the welfare of the public, Liu said:

We advocate the self-regulation of corporations, and that society help in the supervision and inspection of internet content, as well as the essential technological strategies needed to prevent the circulation of harmful information online. These are the same methods shared internationally by other countries across the world.

The reference to the “self-regulation of corporations” could be seen as a warning to other companies who are considering following in Google’s footsteps and trying to take on the Chinese government. The suggestion that society help in the “inspection” appears to advocate the type of astroturfing carried out by the 50 Cent Party (Wu Mao Dang).

In an attempt to re-educate Chinese netizens, Liu advises those who believe that people “can say whatever they want” in other countries that they are misinformed, the internet is never completely uncensored.  According to Liu, the ministry visited and compared internet management methods in more than 30 countries across the world, and concluded that there was “no such thing as absolute freedom online.”

Liu emphasised that whilst the internet gave a platform for people to discuss and exchange ideas, those who decide to express themselves publicly carry the responsibility to ensure that their views “abide by the laws of the government”.

This account by an official government spokesperson is, of course, only available in the Chinese version of Xinhua.