Domestic Law Reforms in Post-Mao China

By Pitman B. Potter | Go to book overview

5 To Protect or Restrict? Points of Contention in China's Draft Press Law

Judy Polumbaum

As economic reform gave rise to demands for political reform, key issues were raised in China concerning the role of the press. Calls for greater press freedom conflicted with assertions of the need for the press to serve loyally the political imperatives of party and state. Efforts to resolve this tension through legislation of a press law have resulted in debates on some of the most fundamental and sensitive issues in Chinese intellectual life.

Many comrades still have an imperfect recognition of the importance of journalism, and think that journalism is only propaganda, that it's just the party and government's tool of propaganda and public opinion. Without a change in this view, it's pointless to talk about a press law and it's impossible to give such a law the stature it deserves.

--Local newspaper editor, December 19881

In Socialist society, press freedom is subordinate not only to the Constitution and laws but also to necessary propaganda discipline. It must help maintain stability and unity in society.

--Press theoretician, September 19892

All the constitutional and constitution-like documents adopted in China over the past 80 years--from the constitutional principles promulgated by the declining Qing dynasty in 1908 through the four constitutions adopted by the People's Republic--have contained guarantees of freedom of expression. 3 The newest PRC constitution of 1982 guarantees to citizens "freedom of speech and publication" (yulun chuban ziyou). This provision, contained in Article 35, generally is interpreted as embracing "freedom of the press" (xinwen ziyou). 4

Yet the Chinese state's propensity to control the news media persists, and

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