Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, October 10, 2011

Controlling the new media

When the Party has a big event planned, they are sure to redouble efforts to make sure that no one spoils the party.

China moves to rein in microblogs
Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to rein in the hugely popular microblogging sites that have become an alternative source of real-time news for millions while challenging the Communist Party’s traditional grip on information.

Journalists, bloggers, media analysts and others said the moves are part of an intensifying control of the media landscape ahead of next year’s crucial Communist Party Congress, which will bring the broadest leadership change in China in a decade…

The 2012 leadership change will be the first since the explosion here of Weibo, the microblogging sites that are like a Chinese version of Twitter with some of the visual elements of Facebook tossed in. Weibo has more than 200 million users, and the number is growing.

Although the traditional media here remain largely controlled by government censors, Weibo has emerged as a freewheeling forum for breaking news, exposés and edgy opinion — often to the chagrin of censors…

Also, although newspapers, television and radio are typically owned by the government or the Communist Party, the Weibo sites are run by private companies, meaning the censors’ control had to be more indirect.

But that seems to have changed…

Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Internet Office, told a conference here that social networking sites posed a problem for the government.

“Many people are considering how to prevent the abuse of these networks following violent crimes that took place in some parts of the world this year,” Wang said, referring to rioting in Britain that was fueled in part by youths using BlackBerry messaging and cellphones. “The Internet should not be used to jeopardize the national or public interest,” he said.

The companies that run the most popular microblogging sites seem to have gotten the message. Sina, whose Weibo site is the most commonly used, has stepped up efforts to remove what it calls unsubstantiated rumors from its site and to indefinitely freeze the accounts of users who spread rumors…

The efforts to control the microblogs come as authorities have made other recent moves against traditional media.

In September, two papers, the Beijing News — known for its aggressive reporting and investigations — and the Beijing Times, were placed under the control of the Beijing municipal propaganda department. Newspapers in China must have a “supervising authority,” and the two papers had been indirectly under the control of the central government.

Some journalists and media advocates said the situation was murky and unpredictable because competing power centers are vying for position before next year’s leadership changes.

“Each official is worrying that the media will be the tool of their enemies to attack them at this moment, which will be harmful to their political life,” said one Chinese investigative reporter…

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