Former Communist Party leader Zhao
Ziyang's memoirs are no longer accessible through the authorized online channels,
York Times reports. News outlets are writing about "stability
preservation" and police action, according to the Hong Kong-based China Media Project. Hong Kong
newspapers reporting on the anniversary are not delivered to the mainland,
while Hong Kong TV broadcasts are interrupted with commercial breaks within
Any conjunction of the digits 6 and 4 is essentially banned from
the news as 6/4/09 approaches, according to
The silencing project speaks volumes about the Chinese
Communist Party's fears. Not least is the threat the 1989 generation of
dissidents, rights activists, journalists and intellectuals still pose to
one-party rule. Public security officials arrested one of them, the veteran
Xiaobo, in December 2008, in the belief that he drafted "Charter 08," a
public call for political reform signed by hundreds of people around
Social unrest, which fused with political issues in 1989, is
also far from unusual in modern-day
Finally, though some international
reports point out that today's students don't identify with the demands of
the June 4 generation, the specter of the youth-led movement still haunts the
The media has the potential to unite these myriad concerns. That was the role they played in 1989--even before the age of the Internet.
A 1990 analysis of the Chinese media in the spring of 1989, available on the Web site of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, a documentary and archive project about the protests, argues that the student movement framed their demands in terms of media coverage from the start. Many were angered when newspapers didn't report an April 18 demonstration, according to the analysis, written by Linda Jakobson. When an official People's Daily editorial on April 26, 1989, accused the protesters of creating national turmoil, they asked for a retraction. A few days later, national broadcasters televised two key dialogues between student leaders and top officials.
During this brief period, official media guidelines became ambiguous, Jakobson writes. Journalists capitalized on disarray within the party to tentatively publish factual reports on protests, and to quote selectively from government figures they agreed with, like Zhao, who denied that the protests were a serious security threat.
Journalists were also the first non-student group to use the protests to advance their own agenda, according to Jakobson's analysis. "On May 4th , about 200 journalists marched for the first time carrying banners with texts saying: "Don't force us to spread rumors," "Our pens cannot write what we want to write" and "News must report the truth,"" she writes. Other professional and intellectual groups were emboldened to join the demonstrations.
With no immediate remonstrance, many imagined the new
openness had been officially sanctioned. News outlets spread sympathetic
stories of the demonstrators around the country, readying others to mobilize
behind them. The momentum was similar in 2008, when editors responded to
demands from journalists and readers to publish accounts of the
In the time they were allowed, however, Chinese journalists used the movement begun by the students as an exercise in the theory and practice of press freedom. Their demands for expression mobilized others to voice discontent; their more open reporting provided the means. Small wonder that censorship today has been intensified. The government's attention to sixes and fours is no anachronism: As much as anything, the anniversary is a reminder that the media's potential to unify disparate hopes and frustrations is as strong as ever, with the speed and accessibility of the Internet posing an added challenge to the censors.
Ming Pao says many
Chinese journalists are viewing the sensitive period as an unofficial vacation,
preferring to wait until the anniversary passes before reporting anything
negative, even about the volatile economy. The government's security apparatus,
bolstered for the sake of international visitors in advance of last year's
Olympics, is now serving to restrict not only dissent but also the exchange of
information in ways that could influence the rest of the world. In a year that
has already seen economic disruption and a public health scare on a global
scale, this degree of media repression is particularly unjustifiable.