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Covering Bad News — No Longer Forbidden in China

- March 18, 2008

The mass media in China, though still largely state-owned and centrally controlled, are enjoying greater freedom, sometimes even to carry “very negative and critical stories” about government officials. “Although these negative reports [are] mostly restricted to local officials,…still it is a big step forward compared to the past.”

Here, in support of that conclusion, is a data snippet from a recent analysis (abstract here) of news reports, 1990-2003, that have won the China Radio and Television Awards, which were established as an incentive to excellence in Chinese journalism.


As the author of the study, Xi Chen (a Ph.D. candidate in the Planning, Governance and Globalization Program at Virginia Tech), concludes:

bq. The facts that journalists are reporting ‘dark’ stories which are not supposed to increase support for the party and government … and are disclosing the frauds and deceptions practiced by local officials, and paying more attention to the harsh situation in the remote western and southwestern area of the country all demonstrate that they are becoming more professional and are playing more of a role of agent rather than the mouthpiece for the government as before.

Now, let’s not go overboard. No one is claiming that China now has anything approaching a free press that provides “fair and balanced” news coverage — see, e.g., this recent posting by James Fallows on Chinese coverage of the situation in Tibet. But a step forward is…well, a step forward.