Asian Media Range from Free to Tightly Controlled

Washington Journalism Review, January-February 1993 | Go to article overview

Asian Media Range from Free to Tightly Controlled


The second day of China's 14th Party Congress was in full swing when General Party Secretary Qiang Ze Min delivered the key-note speech. The Chinese people, and much of the world, were watching closely.

At the congress in mid-October, reporters and photographers from the New China News Agency, the official government news service, were recording the event for history. The news was remarkable: Party leaders decided that China would accelerate its move toward a free-market economy, but retain its authoritarian government.

As Qiani was reading his text inside the Great Hall of the People, he changed glasses. The agency photographer snapped the picture. The, next day's China Dai carried the photo.

For some reporters and editors, the photo was symbolic. As one explained, "We cannot say how you can change your minds, but we can show you how to change your glasses."

There is only one official way of thinking in China, and that is the government's way. But the publication of that photo, according to those who explained it, hinted at an undercurrent of discontent with the tight government control of the press.

Subtle as it was, it seemed about as daring as a journalist could get. Dissidents still face jail, and worse, in China.

China was one stop on a two-week, five-country, one-territory fact-finding trip to Asia by The Freedom Forum Board of Trustees. The purpose of the trip was to learn first-hand about the news media and assess possibilities for supporting free-press initiatives in those countries.

"We are here to listen and to learn," Freedom Forum Chairman Al Neuharth said.

The condition of the press ranged from absolute control in China and Vietnam to free-wheeling in the Philippines. Sources for the trustees included local reporters and editors; journalism school faculty; government ministers; U.S. embassy and consulate staffs; and American correspondents. Here are highlights:

* China. …

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