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Unequal International Flow in News: China


The processes of globalization, trade liberalization and the overall development of the influence of the mass media are currently modifying the whole human society turning it from a community of separate countries with their borders and laws into a single global homogeneous platform where reciprocal trade and communication between the people is the basic value. Accordingly, informational flows and the ways in which people can access the international news acquire great importance nowadays. The advances of technological progress have brought numerous improvements in the informational opportunities of the people around the world, but there are still regions where informational access is limited and filtered.

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China is one of such regions where the government exercises its power to select the new to be received by the citizens with the purpose of keeping the latter unaware of the recent developmental trends in China and abroad (Bristow, 2008). The sphere of governmental control over information covers such integrally important sources of the latter as internet, television, mobile applications, newspapers and magazines, among other media sources. Such a situation creates unequal informational opportunities and places the Chinese people in a disadvantaged position in comparison to other people who have full access to the international events. The analysis of the reasons for the unequal international flow in the Chinese news will allow identifying the main consequences of the limited information and determine the main socio-political reasons behind this phenomenon.

Country Overview: China

Geography and Population Trends

Situated in Asia, China is the largest country in this region and the fourth largest country in the world with the territory comprising 9,596,961 sq km (China, 2009). China borders on Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Russia, etc. and the total length of its borders amounts to 22, 117 km (China, 2009). The climatic conditions in China are rather diverse and include the areas of the tropic climate in the South of the country, and even subarctic climate in the northern areas (China, 2009). Being the country of the diverse landscapes, China is rich in natural resources including coal, iron ore, natural gas, petroleum, etc (China, 2009). The issues this country faces range from natural disasters that include typhoons, floods, and tsunamis, to the environmental issues like air and water pollution, water shortages, deforestation, and desertification of land.

Further on, according to the population China is the largest country in the world with the number of its inhabitants amounting to 1,338,612,968 people based on the estimated data for July, 2009 (China, 2009). With the huge population growth rates, China takes and is forecasted to take the first place in the world (Chart 1.1):

Population growth in Europe and China, 1650 - 2050.
Figure 1. Population growth in Europe and China, 1650 – 2050.

Moreover, the increase in the country’s population still allows China to be one of the world’s leaders as for the percentage of literate citizens. According to the 2000 Census results reported by the CIA official web site, 90.9% of the Chinese are literate, among whom there are 95.1% of literate males, and 86.5% of literate females (China, 2009).

Economy Growth

At the same time, China displays the largest growth rates of the countries economy. For instance, the rate of foreign investment per year was reported to reach the level of $84 billion in 2007 (China, 2009). These investment capabilities brought changes in the population composition in China, and caused over 200 million of rural citizens to relocate to urban industrialized areas. The shift in the population composition resulted in the sharp rises of GDP growth rates, official exchange rates, etc. For instance, the composition of the Chinese GDP has shifted from agricultural to industrial domination. Nowadays, agriculture composes only 10.6% of the national GDP, while industry 49.2%, and the sphere of services amounts to 40.2% (China, 2009).

The overall GDP and GDP per capita growth rates are also notable. The former figures displayed the increase over 2006 and 2007 (11.6% and 13% respectively), but the worldwide economic recession of 2008 – 2009 caused the slight decrease in 2008 GDP growth. It amounted to approximately 9.8% (China, 2009). The foreign and domestic investments amounted to 40.2% of the Chinese GDP according to the data of 2008. The overall labor force, according to 2008 estimation, amounts to 807.7 million people, while the total unemployment rate is only at the 4% level. Finally, only 8% of the population in the country live below the poverty line, which is a rather low rate as compared to other countries, especially the European ones (China, 2009). Thus, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and the flexible policy of the Chinese Government that preserves state control over economy but allow private entrepreneurship has allowed the country to become the fastest growing economy in the world (Saich & Wright, 2004). However, the rule of the Chinese Communist Party has not only positive but negative influences upon the country’s development as well. One of the negative influences is the limitation of informational access of the Chinese people and filtering of information.

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The Chinese Media and Telecommunication Industry: Restrictions & Monopolies

Internet Restrictions

The modern state of the development of informational technologies makes Internet into the most widely used source of information, especially concerning the international affairs. This fact makes the recent restrictions that the Chinese Government put on the Internet use in the country even a more burning problem than just a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of choice (Thomson, 2009). The recent internationally considered example of the Internet restrictions in China was observed during the Beijing Olympic Games of 2008, when the thousands of international reporters and journalists were deprived of access to certain web sites: “Censorship is strongly implemented in China through state run Internet service providers with directives from local government units” (Thomson, 2009). Thus, even the internationally observed event of 2008 was controlled by the Chinese Government in respect of the information that the Chinese people have or have not to consider.

Moreover, the overall situation in China’s Internet sphere is different from the rest of the world: “Unlike other users in the world, Chinese home users have limited access to international news websites, blogs, online message boards, chat rooms, and instant messaging services” (Thomson, 2009). The largest degree of the governmental attention and censorship is attributed to the political and propagandist data that concern mainly the Taiwanese or Tibetan struggle for independence and other pieces of information that might bring doubt in the minds of the Chinese about the correctness of the developmental initiatives taken up by the Communist Party of China (O’Byrne, 2002).

The Chinese and international activists try to solve the issue by inventing the programs and solutions that allow computer users to overcome the Chinese Governmental Firewall that blocks sites and filters their content. Thomson (2009) reports the invention of the VPN solution: ” This technology creates a tunnel over the restricted public network. This tunnel serves as a safeguard for totally anonymous Internet usage, helping users keep their online activities private and secure” (Thomson, 2009). Thus, the most popular and modern means of informational access is restricted in its use in China due to the censorship policies of the local Government, and although initiatives are taken to solve the issue, Internet restrictions are still considerable in China.

Radio Restrictions

However, the restrictions coined by censorship and political considerations are put not only on the Internet. All the mass media are under strict control and supervision of the special police department (Zosh, 2008). Such a popular and widely used medium as radio is also under the control of censorship in China. Overall, there are three major country wide radio stations that broadcast their programs in all regions of the country. They include AM 369, FM 259, and the short wave station operating at the 45 rate (China, 2009). The work of these stations is strictly controlled by the state, and the information they broadcast is prior carefully examined and filtered by the special governmental departments and police detachments. The essence is not to allow the Chinese people get the objective data on the international development and the place of China in it.

Also, the Chinese Government acts in order not to provide the Chinese with data on the international dispute over the state of environmental protection in China and the political controversy surrounding the Tibetan demand of independence and the Taiwanese claims about being an independent state but not a part of China as the official ideology in China still puts it (Thomson, 2009). To solve the radio restriction issues, the Sound of Hope Radio Network was established in China in 2008 by the US based activists to provide the Chinese people with the adequate international information for 14 hours a day, seven days a week (Zosh, 2008). Thus, radio restrictions are also a serious issue in China, but currently measures are taken to solve it.

Television Restrictions

The situation with television restrictions is also critical in China. In the country where there are 3, 240 television stations, among which 209 belong to the China Central Television, 31 are provincial, and 3, 000 are local (China, 2009), the freedom of television is limited to the reporting of the latest advances in the work of the Communist Party and to the propaganda of its ideas and values (Zosh, 2008). Moreover, the recently introduced advertising restrictions for the TV broadcasters state the necessity to remove any ads containing either vulgar or potentially misleading or violence-promoting information. Therefore, the function of television in China is transformed from an informative to the propagandist and police ones.

Further on, the activities of the censorship committee spread even over the work of the international TV journalists. The examples of the threatening influence of censorship in China are numerous, and the case with the American TV reporter in China presented the latest one (O’Byrne, 2002). Tom O’Byrne, an American TV journalist working in China, was detained and assaulted by the Chinese police for allegedly propagating the anti-Communist and anti-Chinese ideas: “According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, most of the full-time reporters in jail in China have been charged with subversion that can carry jail terms of ten years or more” (O’Byrne, 2002). Respectively, television restrictions in China are aimed at preserving the dominance of the Communist Party and not allowing foreign influences to affect the Chinese people’s minds.

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Telecommunications Restrictions

The sphere of telecommunications experiences almost the same degree of restrictions and state control. Possessing the largest telecommunication network in the world that comprises over 365 million main telephone lines and 547 million of mobile telephone lines, China exercises the state control over it and is developing the state monopoly in telecommunications (China, 2009). Interestingly, the two opposite processes are combined in the Chinese telecommunications sphere. On the one hand, the country’s Government establishes contacts with the international telecommunications companies and encourages the development of their networks in China (China, 2009).

On the other hand, the Government restructures its telecommunications and establishes three major state-owned and monopolistic companies; they are China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom (China, 2009). Each of these companies specializes in both major and mobile telephone connection and can be called a nationwide company according to the coverage it has. In this way, the Chinese Government resorts to its usual practice in relations with international organizations. It combines the conservative Communist ideas and state control over the most important spheres of social life with the openness and readiness to cooperate with foreigners, although only to the extent that does not violate the Party ideals (Saich & Wright, 2004). In other words, if an international telecommunication company wants to launch business in China it should accept the political ideas supported in this country; in case if the opposite occurs, the cooperation is stopped and further forbidden for this company.

Newspapers and Magazines Restrictions

The sphere of newspapers, magazines, and other printed media is also subjected to censorship and control from the side of the Government as far as these media are the most accessible and, given the limited Internet access opportunities, the most widely spread sources of information for the Chinese. The currently observed number of newspapers in China amounts to 2, 200 editions, and the majority of them are state controlled and restricted (China, 2009). The magazines and journals published in China are also numerous, over 7, 000, but controlled by the government as well (China, 2009).

The major state bodies that exercise media supervision include the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, General Administration of Press and Publication, and the Ministry of Public Security (China, 2009). Although following the recent trends of freedom granted to the media, in China the printed mass media are not required to be state owned, but still they have to follow the number of regulations that restrict the freedom of speech in newspapers and magazines like China Daily, Gongren Ribao, Guangming Daily, etc (Saich & Wright, 2004). Some of the Chinese newspapers and magazines are published in English, but the majority of them are in Chinese. Whichever level of freedom the Government might claim to give to the printed media, it is still obvious that newspapers and magazines in China are censored and controlled so that their readers could receive only the information that cannot harm the Communist Party rule in China and its authority among its citizens.

The brightest example of the media censorship was the coverage of the so-called Olympic Torch incident that took place in Paris on April 9, 2008. During the torch relay, a Tibetan protestant tried to attacks the torch bearer Jin Jing but failed and was detained by the French police. The news was immediately spread worldwide, but the Chinese official media ignored it not to allow unrest in the country. Thus, people from Taiwan reported the incident to their friends and acquaintances in China, and the whole world knew about the incident with the Chinese Olympic torch before the Chinese people came to know about it.

Reasons for Information Limitation: a Critical Analysis and Conclusions

Therefore, after considering the restrictions put on the Chinese mass media by the local Government, it is now possible to critically analyze the reasons for these restrictions. In other words, having the knowledge of what and how is restricted, we can now try to find out why it is restricted and what consequences are expected from the restrictive policies. It is obvious from the above presented considerations that the government has such strict information filters in order to prevent the dissemination of propaganda that might cause civil unrest, and the main topics that are filtered are related to anti-pollution and anti-corruption campaigns (Saich & Wright, 2004). However, the picture of the situation is not a single-sided one. The restrictions put on information flow in the Chinese mass media have both positive and negative intentions and consequences.

The former include the firm and stable political platform of the Communist party that consolidates the nation of China in its development (Saich & Wright, 2004). Also, the positive impacts of restrictions can be observed in the economic growth of the country as the people of China are focused on their work and have no need to pay attention to external affairs which they cannot influence. In more detail, the positive side of the media restrictions is obvious if one considers the global picture of events (Saich & Wright, 2004). Thus, China is the fastest growing economy in the world, its population also growth rather quickly and the industrial capabilities increase annually. All this is definitely the product of the clever policy carried out by the Chinese Communist Party that combines the basics of communism and capitalism in itself (Saich & Wright, 2004). Being an example of the state-run economy, China still allows private entrepreneurship and business. So, to avoid people’s attention distraction from their domestic affairs by various international disputes, the Party chooses to filter the informational flows and let the Chinese focus on the development of their country.

On the other hand, the violation of the basic human freedoms, like the freedom of choice and freedom of speech, cannot be considered a positive process at all (Bristow, 2008). As far as the negative influences of information flow restrictions include the lack of the very freedom of speech, violation of basic human rights, and inconformity of China’s policies to the internationally accepted regulations of mass media work, it is obviously necessary to pay more international attention to the state of media in the country.

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The above mentioned incident with the Olympic torch of 2008 showed that the influence of the international community is strong and even the controlled Chinese media had to report such an incident because the international pressure was too strong and already the lack of information on the issue could cause public protests and unrest. Thus, the analysis of the reasons for the unequal international flow in the Chinese news has allowed identifying the main consequences of the limited information and determining the main socio-political reasons behind this phenomenon. International pressure might make the Chinese media more liberal and freer. But this pressure should be limited so as not to damage the positive effects of the information limitations implemented by the Chinese Government.

Reference List

  1. Braudel 1990, UN World Population Prospects. p.34. United Nations.
  2. Bristow, Michael (2008). Stories China’s media could not write. Web.
  3. China (2009). Country Profile, CIA.
  4. O’Byrne, T 2002, Heavy Media Restrictions in China, The world today.
  5. Saich, Tony & Wright, Vincent 2004, Governance and Politics of China: Comparative Government and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan; 2 edition.
  6. Thomson, J 2009, Internet Restrictions in China, Articlesbase.
  7. Zosh, M 2008, Press Restrictions in China, Campus Report Online.


1 Population growth in Europe and China, 1650 – 2050 – Braudel (1990)

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