Twenty-three senior Communist Party members have published a letter calling for sweeping reforms of China's media censorship policies. "Our core demand is that the system of censorship be dismantled in favor of a system of legal responsibility," the letter said, according to an English translation by Hong Kong University's China Media Project. Widely distributed by e-mail and posted on the Sina news portal, the letter started appearing on Monday, according to news reports. Titled "Concerning the Current State of Freedom of Speech and Press in Our Country," the letter is signed in large part by retired party elders, many of whom held ranking positions in the media.
The letter may be an incarnation of a gradual movement toward greater media freedom in China. The prominent journalist Li Datong, who edited the China Youth Daily supplement Freezing Point until his 2006 dismissal over a controversial article, calls it a "drip by drip" progression. In May 2007, Li addressed the Society of Publishers in Asia on the future of Chinese news media. As with this week's letter from party elders, Li's speech is important reading for anyone interested in journalism in China. Here is an excerpt:
Chinese media are evolving. They are in the process, as we say in Chinese, of 'tunneling through stone drip by drip.' This evolution may, perhaps, lack dramatic action. It may not command attention. But as someone who has participated in and observed this evolution, I know it is real, and that it cannot easily be reversed. Don't get me wrong. The traditional system of media controls in China grinds on. Many of the most important political topics in contemporary China cannot be talked about openly. News that authorities deem harmful to the legitimacy of their rule is suppressed.
The power and legitimacy of China's censors have already been questioned publicly, and actions to close newspapers or ban books have met with an unprecedented degree of public resistance, forcing compromise on the part of authorities. This should make us feel encouraged. I believe the yearning for freedom of speech in China has never been more powerful than it is today. If journalists in China persist in upholding their professional conscience, if they work tenaciously to expand the space for truth, I believe the day when we truly enjoy freedom of expression in China, as guaranteed in our constitution, will not tarry much longer.
This week's letter from party members comes just as the government suppressed news that human rights activist Liu Xiaobo had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Analysts such as the China Media Project's David Bandurski say the letter is not likely connected to the Nobel Prize.
But there is interesting symmetry.
News of Liu's award remains all but excised
from official media, as we noted in our alert on October 8. Liu, 54,was arrested in , the
day before he and a group of academics published , a
manifesto that demanded civil liberties, judicial independence, and the end to
the Communist Party's hold on state power.
But there is interesting symmetry. News of Liu's award remains all but excised from official media, as we noted in our alert on October 8. Liu, 54,was arrested in , the day before he and a group of academics published , a manifesto that demanded civil liberties, judicial independence, and the end to the Communist Party's hold on state power.