A free and robust media is deeply integrated into our everyday lives; something that is true in most, if not all, Western societies. However, when we travel across the globe to countries like China, that sentiment is suddenly a foreign one.
It’s difficult to nail down a single case study that illustrates exactly how the Chinese government censors its media. Instead, it’s better illustrated through a handful of examples. For starters, access to Western social media platforms are blocked. Yes, Google included. Of course there are alternatives that people use, one being Weibo — the equivalent to Twitter — but you can forget about posting what you had for lunch that day on Instagram or sharing the awesome concert you’re at on Snapchat. But even then, the government is closely monitoring the forums that are allowed.
Broadcast journalism suffers a great deal of censorship as well. A common example is the blackouts of TV, something all networks like CNN suffer from. If a reporter on air is discussing something the government deems as “sensitive,” the screen will be blank and resume when it’s finished, as BBC illustrates. (Apologies for not being able to find a video that can directly be available below.)
When the government plays a hand in deciding what its people can and can’t know, it poses the question “Does or should the government have a right to do so or should it be up the audience to decide for themselves?” The First Amendment would certainly argue that authorities do not have the permission to be limiting, but with that said, we have to remember that it’s not a universal right. But the fact is, China does control the flow of information on any and every level possible and that makes it harder for journalists to report the truth. As a result, the state-party is denying the public the right to know, to decide and choose.
It certainly paints an oppressive picture of the communist country but it may not feel that way to its citizens. As Cary Huang from the South China Morning Post writes,
Chinese people grow up learning the endure state-sponsored brainwashing.
This couldn’t be more true. Locals don’t know anything better because they haven’t been exposed to anything different. Even when I was living in Beijing, it felt more like an inconvenience as opposed to feeling controlled. To be honest, it was an accepted fact that wasn’t challenged by myself or anyone in my community because that’s just how it is. I’ll be even more frank and say even after studying and learning about the media and journalism as a profession, my thoughts haven’t changed. I can identify the moral issues with it but I still struggle in answering a question I’ve always had: Can a government, like the one in America, tell another nation like China that free speech should be granted? Is that crossing a line?
On the flip side, Chinese locals may be surprised, possibly horrified, by Western media operations. Think about it; the ability to say what you want, when you want, where you want and how you want, is an incredibly powerful right but also can be incredibly frightening. While you can’t go into a movie theatre and frantically yell “FIRE,” that innate freedom the First Amendment guarantees not just journalists may be both a gift and a curse.
But does freedom of speech eradicate any censorship in America? What examples, if any, is U.S. media limited?
A lot of questions and issues are attached to this issue and is undoubtedly tricky waters to tread. It’s easy to criticize a government-controlled media but I’ll leave you all with one last question — Do you think there are benefits to censorship?