China has drastically liberalized much of its economy, making it in some respects freer of bureaucratic supervision than the U.S. economy. Lest anyone think this makes China a free country, however, this story about a stern warning delivered to Chinese broadcast media, should confirm that politically, China remains a communist country.
The Chinese legislatures are meeting next month and the Communist Party is preparing for its 17th national congress (held every five years) in the fall. The top authorities, up to president Hu Jintao, want everything to go smoothly, so nothing mars the impression that the application of rubber stamps to the leadership's desires will appear to be the deepest will of the sacred people. So the party propaganda department issued a directive on Jan. 12.
"In foreign countries, televisions are privately owned and you can broadcast whatever you want," said Wang Weiping, head of the series division at China's State Television, Film and Broadcasting Administration. "But in China, television is the mouthpiece of the party and the people. This is its main mission, and entertainment is secondary."
That lays it on the line, doesn't it?
Li Dongshen, deputy head of the propaganda department, told assembled TV executives: "To create a proper atmosphere for the 17th party congress, we should sing high praises for socialism. We should sing loudly the main themes of our nation."
This is censorship and dictation of content with a heavy hand. In some ways, however, it is different largely in degree from the way television and radio are regulated in the United States. Here the Federal Communications Commission, based on the convenient myth that the airwaves belong to "the people," issues broadcast licenses and can revoke them. Stations are required to prove that they serve "the public interest" in ways defined by government authorities. Offering programming people want to listen to or watch is not enough.
Our political system is not (yet) as centralized and jealous for unanimity that the authorities don't dictate that broadcast outlets sing the high praises of Bush. But the broadcast media are not really free, despite the First Amendment.