10/14/2010, 00.00
CHINA

Party members call for an end to press censorship, backing Wen Jiabao

Wang Zhicheng
Former top officials directly attack propaganda department, which censors the media, including speeches by China’s prime minister on political reforms. The betrayal of the constitution (which guarantees press freedom) is a “shame” and a “scandal”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A group of former high-ranking political and cultural officials published an open letter calling for an end to media censorship on the mainland, which they deem “unconstitutional”. The letter was made public just a few days before the Central Committee of the Communist Party is set to meet, tomorrow.

The letter, signed by 23 former top ranking officials including Li Rui, a former Mao secretary, was addressed to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress; it demands a new law on freedom of the press and an end to party-imposed stops and taboos.

Quoting from the 1982 Chinese constitution, which formally guarantees freedom of the press, and President Hu Jintao himself at the start of his term in office, the letter calls the lack of freedom a “scandal in the history of world democracy”.

It even says that freedom of the press was greater in Hong Kong under British colonial rule than in China today. It notes that the censorship system in the mainland puts China behind Britain by 315 years and France by 129 years.

To illustrate its point, it notes a number of glaring examples that should put to shame a society that claims to have “socialist democracy” with Chinese characteristics.

For example, the first example involves Li Rui who recently had an essay he had written for the People’s Daily in 1981 censored. “What kind of country is this? I want to cry it out: the press must be free! Such strangling of the people's freedom of expression is entirely illegal!"

A second example, even more obvious, is the censoring of some speeches Prime Minister Wen Jiabao delivered in Shenzhen and the United States on the necessity of political reforms in China (see “Shenzhen, political reforms and the ambiguities of Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao,” in AsiaNews, 9 July 2010). In both cases, newspapers and Xinhua did not report Wen’s remarks.

The letter blames the “invisible hands” of the central propaganda department, which “Right now [. . .] is placed above the central committee of the Communist party, and above the state council. We would ask, what right does the central propaganda department have to muzzle the speech of the premier? What right does it have to rob the people of our nation of their right to know what the premier said?”

The signatories, whose number has swelled to 500, demand a new law on press freedom, based on the principle of legal responsibility of journalists rather than the use of preventive censorship on security grounds.

They also want media products and books from Hong Kong and Macau be allowed to circulate freely and openly in the mainland.  

Similarly, they propose to change the mission of the propaganda department, from censorship and manipulation of online and print news, defender of corrupt members of the government, to that of supporter of the press and partisan of accuracy, so as to stop the closure of papers, the firing of writers and editors, the arrest of journalists, etc.

Here is the list of 23 signatories:

Li Rui, former deputy head of the CCP Organisation Department/former secretary for Mao Zedong

Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of People's Daily

Yu You, former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily

Li Pu, former vice-president of Xinhua News Agency

Zhong Peizhang, former chief of News Bureau of the CCP Central Propaganda Department

Jiang Ping, former President of China University of Political Science and Law

Zhou Shaoming, former deputy director of political department of Guangzhou Military Command

Zhang Zhongpei, former head of Palace Museum; head of council of Archaeological Society of China

Du Guang, professor of the Central Party School

Guo Daohui, former editor-in-chief, China Legal Science Magazine

Xiao Mo, former head of the Institute of Architectural Art of China Art Academy

Zhuang Puming, former vice-president, People's Publishing House

Hu Fuchen, former editor-in-chief, China Worker Publishing House

Zhang Ding, former president of Social Sciences Academic Press of China Academy of Social Sciences

Ouyang Jin, editor-in-chief of Pacific Magazine in Hong Kong

Yu Haocheng, former president of Qunzhong Press

Zhang Qing, former president of China Film Publishing House

Yu Yueting, former president of Fujian TV station

Sha Yexin , former president, Shanghai People's Art Theatre, author

Sun Xupei, former president of Journalism Institute of China Academy of Social Sciences

Xin Ziling, former director of Contemporary China Editorial Bureau under the National Defence University

Tie Liu, editor of private publication The Past with Traces, author

Wang Yongcheng, professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University

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