Jiao Guobiao's Second Campaign Against The Central Propaganda Department

Following his Declaration of A Campaign Against The Central Propaganda Department, Jiao Guobiao published this follow-up article in the September 2004 issue of Ming Pao Monthly magazine.  The article is translated below.

I do have some comments.  Notwithstanding Jiao's claims, it is not true that there is unbridled freedom of press in Europe, America, Hong Kong or Taiwan.  Even in the case of an ordinary company such a restaurant, there are legal restrictions such as health, fire and tax codes.  For news media outside of China, there are some standard restraints.

First, it is true that there is rarely any prior restraint on publication in Europe, America, Hong Kong or Taiwan.  But that does not mean a license to publishing everything and anything.  Here are some current counter-examples:

Somewhere along the line, there has to be a news media watchdog and this can be called the Propaganda Department or some other name.  It does involve some subjective interpretation of the law as to what constitute violations.  Perhaps the most important thing is that those decisions are transparent and subject to public debate and appeal to an independent judiciary, as opposed to those mysterious and often inconsistent edicts coming down without explanation from the Propaganda Department right now.

Second, the electronic broadcast medium is typically considered to be a finite space that is owned by the public.  For example, in New York City, the VHF spectrum consists of broadcast television channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13.  If someone shows up and claims channel 10, they will interfere with the signals on channels 9 and 11.  Thus, in New York City, those limited channels are awarded through renewable licenses with the requirement that the stations to broadcast certain public services (such as public service announcements or community-oriented programs).  Jiao's model of a totally open spectrum is not supported by the laws of physics.

Third, a major issue in Europe and America is media concentration.  It is recognized that media will necessarily reflect the political and commercial attitudes of their owners, so that it is dangerous to the freedom of speech for a single entity to own most of the media in a city or country (e.g. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation).  In the worst case scenario, all the private media in Venezuela are full-time advocates for overthrowing a democratically elected government due to their business interests.  The question is how to prevent a few rich and powerful bodies from strangling diversity of opinions.

How To Open Up News Control In China?

Several days ago, a reporter from the Voice of America telephoned me from abroad to ask when news control will be opened up.  The example of the newspapers in Taiwan gave the Chinese people a historical precedent to which they now look forward.  I replied that I cannot predict the exact timing of the aperture, but I am confident that it will occur and here are my thoughts about the way in which it could occur.

There are three ways in which news control can be opened up.

First, on certain date, control will be removed everywhere in the country.

Second, on the first year, several provinces (for example, the northeastern provinces) will be opened up; next year, a few more provinces (such as the northwestern provinces); within three to five years, all newspaper control will be removed across the entire country.  The economic reform began in the southeastern part of the country, so I believe that the benefits of the newspaper reform should fall upon the less developed western parts of the country.  When I say "opening up in totality", I mean that this is like starting up an ordinary corporation.  Anyone who satisfies certain basic requirements can register to start television stations or publishing companies without any form of special restrictions.

Third, the method of opening up will be like a national Five Year Plan.  There will be a Five Year Plan to open up news control.  For example, within these five years, each province will be permitted to start five private newspapers, five private television stations, five private radio stations, five private news web portals and five private publishing companies.  At the end of five years, anyone who wants to do so can do so, as easily as big and small business people register new corporations right now and comparable to the standards in Europe, America, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

This writer's opinion is that the second approach is the best.  It keeps the shock of the opening up of news control to a minimum while maximizing the control over the abuse of power.  The first method is based upon a nationwide process which can minimize the abuse of power, but it may cause total chaos in the news publishing industry in the short term.  The third method is bound to let those in power take advantage of the situation.  For example, if Henan province is permitted to have five new private newspapers subject to some standards, what would happen if more than five candidates satisfy those standards?  Who is going to get in?  Who is going to be cut?  If they have to compete against each other, then how?  On what basis?  Based upon the fact that money equals leverage right now, it is certain that those who are willing to pay out money as bribes will be the winners.

While I am here, I should mention that during the 20s/30s of the previous century, Hu Xi attempted to propose the second method to the Chiang Kai-Shek government.  At the time, the Communist ideology was spreading like wildfire.  Hu Xi suggested that the three northeastern provinces could be opened up to the Communists.  If they succeed, it can be expanded to the entire country; if they fail, it won't even be necessary to send a military expeditionary force to quell them because the Communists would have gone away on their own.  Unfortunately, Hu Xi was too cowardly and never published the written article which was locked up in a drawer for decades.  But still, it must be said that even if Hu Xi had published the article, Chiang Kai-Shek would not have adopted it.  Why?  Because the sad fact is that all Chinese rulers believe that they are as secure and sturdy as the pyramids even on the eve of their destruction.

For many years, there has been talk about news reform on mainland China, but all that talk is illusory.  Apart from the fact that nobody relinquishes power willingly, there are some conceptual mistakes.  Like what?  Namely, "The Party's control on the news cannot be relinquished," which is sometimes confused with "The Propaganda Department's control on the news cannot be relinquished."  In any case, there is only one never changing rule: all news publication must obey the dictates of the Propaganda Department.  This misconception is fatal to the opening up of news control on mainland China.  It is a major conceptual mistake that I will discuss here.

First of all, the Propaganda Department has been in charge of news publishing for more than fifty years already.  How many successful news media and publishing companies has it produced?  What are its accomplishments with respect to the news contents in the Chinese news industry?  Although it swears that it aims to produce noteworthy reporters, editors, commentators and publishers, how many such people had it nurtured over the past half century or so?

Without referring to any other standards, how many of the academic research books from our publishing industry have been translated into foreign languages?  It is a pathetically small number.  Based upon this writer's copy of The History of Chinese Books In Foreign Translation, there are fewer than ten books in the humanities and social sciences that were translated into foreign languages over the past half century!  These even included some that were translated into Russian during the Cold War era.  This goes to illustrate the academic standards for humanities and social sciences in the past half century.  Using journalism as an example, not a single academic book has been translated into foreign languages in the past half century.  We have a population of 1.3 billion, which is one-quarter or one-fifth of the population of the world, and is this the 'contribution' of the Chinese people to humanity in the past half century?  We should be ashamed and we don't deserve to be listed among the nations of the world.

What is the cause of this ignominy?  It is the historical and continued insistence on the principle that "the Propaganda Department's control on the news cannot be relinquished" and this pre-empts all considerations of reform.  For more than half a century, the Propaganda Department had a firm hold on news control, and its acts and deeds are too many to be described here.  The Propaganda Department should have been discarded a long time ago into the dustbin of history.

Second of all, all mainland news publishers must obey the constitution and laws of mainland China.  But whose will does the constitution and the laws reflect?  It goes without say that it is based upon the will of the Communist Party and its government.  So any news publisher -- whether a party organ or a private enterprise -- which operates according to the present constitution and the laws are realizing the will of the Party and its government.  This is equivalent to "the Party not relinquishing its control on news."  So why is it necessary to insert an all-powerful Propaganda Department between the news publishers and the various laws that are already in existence on mainland China.

Simply put, news publishing organizations only have to operate according to the laws, and this would be equivalent to "the Party controlling the news."  In the tripartite relationship among the news publishing industry, the Propaganda Department and the legal system, what is the purpose of the Propaganda Department other than diminishing both the constitution and the legal system as well as reflecting the personal wills of the Propaganda Department director and his/her subordinates (which is not identical to the spirit of the constitution and the laws) for personal gain?  In practice, the Propaganda Department is the insulation layer between the publishing industry and the constitution and the legal system, causing distortions.  Once we understand this, "the Party's control of the news" does not have to be exercised through the Propaganda Department and can be effected directly through the constitution and the laws.

In Medieval Europe, theologians often emphasized the following reasoning system -- there are only two types of books in the world: those that are consistent with the Bible and those that are against the Bible.  If a book is consistent with the Bible, then it is enough to have the Bible and this other book is redundant; if a book is against the Bible, then it must be wrong and there is no reason to allow it to exist.  Thus, it is enough to have only the Bible.  Based upon this reasoning: if the products from a news organization are problematic, then it can be pursued through constitutional and legal means without requiring the intervention of a Propaganda Department.  If the Propaganda Department behaves consistently with the constitution and the laws, then it is redundant; if the Propaganda Department deviates from the constitution and the laws, then it must be in error.  In either case, the Propaganda Department need not exist.  To put it bluntly, news publishing can be done in conformity with the constitution and the laws without the interference of the Propaganda Department.

Mao Zedong once said that the Party must lead everything everywhere.  This saying is like the bright sun shining in the eyes of all reformers.  Since they cannot look into the sun, they mistook "The Party must lead everything" for "The Chairman must lead everything."  Actually, the legal system represents the will of the party and when the law leads everything, the Party leads everything.  But if the Chairman leads everything, then the Chairman must include his personal issues and distort the laws, thereby violating the will of the Party.  If the governing party wishes to implement its well-meaning policies, it must do so through the legal system and not through the Chairman.  Going through the Chairman represents the will of the Chairman, not the will of the Party.  

By the same logic, when the operation of the news publishers obeys the dictates of the Propaganda Department, it will only reflect the will of the Propaganda Department and not the will of the law.  Of course, the law may not be always in conflict with the Chairman or the Propaganda Department, but it is bad enough to be wrong in one case out of a hundred.

If news control should be opened up and the news media are allowed to function as public opinion watchdogs, a single newspaper will be more effective than one thousand courts of law in guaranteeing social justice, an unfettered People's Daily will be more effective in fighting corruption than one thousand central disciplinary committees, and an independent Central Television is more effective at exposing corruption than ten thousand national audits.