While the Western world’s New Year starts in January, Chinese people are busy preparing for the biggest event of the year for them–Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, which falls on January 29 in 2006. On that day, schools are closed, offices empty, and factories dormant. Above all, it is a time when everyone takes a break after a long year’s hard work and family members get together to have a good time.
However, the Chinese media aren’t feeling quite so festive this year. On December 28, 2005, Chief Editor Yang Bin and Associate Chief Editors Sun Xuedong and Li Duoyu for The Beijing News, one of most successful stories in China’s media market since beginning its publication two years ago, were suddenly dismissed from their posts. Then on January 24, 2006, another popular weekly publication, Bingdian (Freezing Point) magazine, was ordered to shut down. Its Chief Editor Li Datong and Assistant Chief Editor Lu Yuegang were also stripped of all editorial responsibilities.
The orders came directly from the Ministry of Propaganda. In both cases, the publications offended the authorities for being too liberal in their reporting and daring to broach the country’s most sensitive issues. In the past, such punishments were usually carried out under the radar. This year, however, both cases have met fierce public reactions. More than 100 reporters from The Beijing News launched a strike to express their discontent. Many people, from both inside and outside of China, denounced the Propaganda Ministry after the Bingdian incident.
In contrast to the brave Chinese journalists who are fighting to emerge from the shadow of censorship, American stock market darling and rising star Google is casting aside its motto of "Doing No Evil" by surrendering to the Chinese communist regime. Following in the steps of Yahoo! and Microsoft, Google launched a new self-censored search engine in China on January 25, 2006, blocking topics that the communist regime does not like.
We have already tasted the grave consequences of media control in China. In 2003, when SARS first appeared, lack of timely knowledge of the disease’s spread due to media blockage caused delayed action to contain it, which eventually resulted in a global pandemic and loss of more than 800 lives. Now with the looming threat of an even more lethal disease in the form of the avian flu, China is again the most perilous area that requires particular attention (reasons detailed in the current issue’s feature article). Prompt, accurate media reporting will be vitally important in the battle against the disease. We cannot afford to learn another dire lesson before realizing that everyone has a responsibility to ensure the transparency and openness of the Chinese media.