Thursday, October 14, 2010

End Censorship, say Elders

Bad times for the Party, after the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the moderate dissident Lui Xiaobo, 20 senior retired editors, journalists and Party officials  have written an open letter against the recurrent censorship orchestrated by the Propaganda (now known as Publicity) Department of the Party. 
Author and signatory Tie Liu explains that: "The press environment has deteriorated in recent decades." He gives the example of an article written by Li Rui, Mao's former secretary (no. 1 signatory of the petition), which could be published in 1981 but was just recently censored from a book.
There is no doubt that the situation is becoming worse and worse. Is there any other country in the world where the Prime Minister is systematically censored? India has of course no comment.

Open letter from ex party officials calls for end to media censorship in China
October 13, 2010
South China Morning Post
(By Staff Reporters in Beijing)
Ex-officials demand party grants freedom of speech
A group of former high-ranking political and cultural officials published a rare, strongly worded open letter to the top legislature calling mainland media censorship unconstitutional and saying it should be abolished.
They also demanded that media products and books from Hong Kong and Macau - popular among mainland readers - be made openly available on mainland newsstands and in bookstores.
The letter, published online, calls the lack of free speech, which is enshrined in the 1982 constitution, a "scandal of the world history of democracy". It even cites Hong Kong in the colonial era as an example of somewhere that enjoyed freedom of speech and publication.
In particular, the group of 23 well-known individuals condemned the Communist Party's central propaganda department as the "black hand" with a clandestine power to censor even Premier Wen Jiabao's repeated calls for political reform and to deprive the people their right to learn about it.
For the last few weeks, well-connected professionals in Beijing have been talking about the party propaganda authorities' almost open insult to the premier by deleting his points on political reform the day after he made his speech in Shenzhen.
Open letters of this kind rarely lead to any reform, but can land the authors in trouble with the authorities. However, in this case, the high profile of the signatories means they are unlikely to be punished.
The open letter coincided with the imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. But several initiators of it said the two events were unrelated; rather, the open letter had been initiated earlier than the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize and was directly triggered by the injustice to Xie Chaoping , an investigative reporter.
In mid-August, Xie was taken from his home in Beijing by police from Shaanxi province, 1,000 kilometres away, under the charge of "illegal business operation". But Xie and his supporters believe the actual reason was the book that he had published about forced migration to make way for a water project and related official corruption. Xie was released after 30 days' detention for lack of evidence but still has to spend the next year "waiting for trial".
Among the leading sponsors are Li Rui , former secretary of Mao Zedong who was sacked after disagreeing with Mao's disastrous economic programme; and Hu Jiwei, former publisher of the party's mouthpiece the People's Daily, who was removed for trying to reflect the people's voices. Both men are in their 90s. Li confirmed that he had put his name on the open letter.
Zhong Peizhang , former news bureau chief of the Central Propaganda Department and another sponsor of the letter, said the petition was to fight for the rights of expression. He said the current press environment was unsatisfactory.
Author Tie Liu , another sponsor, said Xie Chaoping's case was a brilliant opportunity that the sponsors should grab. "These veteran media professionals have not been able to speak their minds for so long that they all felt bottled up and frustrated," Tie said. "The situation the press is in must change."
"The press environment has deteriorated in recent decades," said Tie, citing in the letter the example of Li Rui's article, which could be published in 1981 but was just recently censored from a book. "As the radio, TV, print media and the internet are all tightly controlled, people nowadays have no channels to file their petitions but sometimes have to turn to foreigners. This could lead to chaos and public disturbance."
He said he had received more than 500 signatures from people aged from their early 20s to 97. "All petition signatories used their real names, and 90 per cent of them are party members," Tie said.
Sha Yexin , author and former president of Shanghai People's Art Theatre, said freedoms of the press and expression were better for the party's governing in the long run if they were ensured. "Freedom of the press actually serves as a decompressor," Sha said, adding that the suppression of information and a totalitarian society were behind disasters such as the Cultural Revolution and the anti-rightist campaign.
Dai Qing , an author and activist, said even if there was a 0.001 percent chance the petition would lead to change then it must be done.
The open letter begins by citing article 35 of the Chinese Constitution (the 1982 edition) that all citizens have freedoms of speech, of publication, of assembly, of association and of demonstration. But it points out that for 28 years these constitutional rights have existed only in words but never really in practice.
Citing words by President Hu Jintao and Wen in support of freedom of speech, the open letter says the reality in today's China is worse than that of the former British colony of Hong Kong, where mainlanders can find many books on Chinese politics they can't find at home.
Sponsors of the open letter seemed most outraged by the fact that even Wen had been censored. They cited examples of his speech in Shenzhen on August 21, a talk with journalists in the US on September 22 and his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 23.
Wen talked about political reform on all those occasions, but it was not mentioned in reports by Xinhua.
"What right does the Central Propaganda Department have," the open letter asked, "to place itself even above the Communist Party Central Committee, and above the State Council?" Wen, as premier, heads the State Council - the executive branch of the state elected by the National People's Congress.
The letter calls on the NPC to enact a new law of news and publication to replace "the countless rules and regulations" that hamper freedoms of speech and publication.
Most importantly, it says the media should gain its "relative independence" from direct control by the party or state apparatus. It notes that the mainland's censorship system lags behind Britain by 315
years and France by 129 years.

The signatories to the letter include
1. Li Rui, former deputy head of the CCP Organisation Department/former
secretary for Mao Zedong
2. Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of People's Daily
3. Yu You, former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily
Li Pu, former vice-president of Xinhua News Agency
4. Zhong Peizhang, former chief of News Bureau of the CCP Central
Propaganda Department
5. Jiang Ping, former President of China University of Political Science and Law
6. Zhou Shaoming, former deputy director of political dept of Guangzhou
Military Command
7. Zhang Zhongpei, former head of Palace Museum; head of council of
Archaeological Society of China
8. Du Guang, professor of the Central Party School
9. Guo Daohui, former editor-in-chief, China Legal Science Magazine
10. Xiao Mo, former head of the Institute of Architectural Art of China Art Academy
11. Zhuang Puming, former vice-president, People's Publishing House
12. Hu Fuchen, former editor-in-chief, China Worker Publishing House
13. Zhang Ding, former president of Social Sciences Academic Press of
China Academy of Social Sciences
14. Ouyang Jin, editor-in-chief of Pacific Magazine in Hong Kong
15. Yu Haocheng, former president of Qunzhong Press
16. Zhang Qing, former president of China Film Publishing House
17. Yu Yueting, former president of Fujian TV station
18. Sha Yexin , former president, Shanghai People's Art Theatre, author
19. Sun Xupei, former president of Journalism Institute of China Academy
of Social Sciences
20. Xin Ziling, former director of Contemporary China Editorial Bureau
under the National Defence University
21. Tie Liu, editor of private publication The Past with Traces, author
22. Wang Yongcheng, professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University

Eight proposals for change that the letter seek are

1. Dismantle the system where media organisations are all tied to certain higher authorities.
2. Respect journalists and their due social status. Protection and support should be rendered to them when they are covering mass actions and exposing official corruption.
3. Revoke the ban on cross-provincial supervision by public opinion.
4. No Web administrator should be allowed to delete any items or post any of their own items at will, except for cases where the state information or citizens' privacy is truly affected. Abolish cyber-police and the "50-cent army" [paid favourable commentators].
5. Guarantee to all citizens the right to know the crimes and mistakes committed by the political party in power; there should be no areas in the Communist Party's history where recording and debate are forbidden.
6. Launch pilot projects, preferably in the magazines Southern Weekend and Yan Huang Chun Qiu, in the reform of developing media organisations owned by citizens. A democratic political system should not tolerate the party in power and the government squandering taxpayers' money on self-congratulation.
7. Allow media and publications from Hong Kong and Macau to be openly distributed.
8. Change the mission of propaganda authorities at all levels, from preventing the leak of information, to facilitating its accurate, timely and smooth spread; from assisting corrupt officials to censor investigative and critical articles, to supporting the media's supervision of the Communist Party and the government; from closing down publications, sacking editors-in-chief, and arresting journalists, to resisting political privilege and protecting media and

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