Controlling the Narrative: The CCP and Press Censorship

Authoritarian regimes maintain control in many ways, however, no such way is as important or influential in the modern-day as the control of the media. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been in power since 1949 when Chairman Mao declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Even in its early development media censorship and control were key factors in asserting and maintaining power and is a technique that has continued to be used by the party for many decades. Censorship does not only influence public opinion but destroys freedom of expression and the press, something characteristic of and central to a dictatorship such as the CCP.

From the early 1950s, the CCP began to monopolise and tightly control the media, ensuring that information they deemed harmful to the regime was not circulated. Their want to remove opposition in this way is highlighted early on in 1956 when Chairman Mao launched the Hundred Flowers Campaign.

This campaign called upon intellectuals to voice where they believe the party to have made mistakes and areas upon which they could improve. However, such freedom of expression was very short-lived, as after just 5 weeks it was evoked and Mao launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign. This sought to identify those who opposed the government and were ‘counter-revolutionary’.

Many historians believe the Hundred Flowers Campaign to be a ploy by Mao to identify those who posed a threat to his ideology and censor intellectuals who could criticise his policies. There were believed to be between 1-2 million victims of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, with many being sent to re-education camps.

This suppression of thought and freedom of expression set the president for the CCP’s future control of the media. Not only have the CCP been known to censor the media but also history. Censoring the media impacts current affairs and denies people their right to information, but censoring history is a clear attempt to indoctrinate generations and change the foundations upon which culture is built.

In 1979 the CCP commissioned a “Resolution on certain questions in the history of our party since the founding of the People’s Republic of China”. This document is said to tell the history of the founding of the Republic, but instead was a reinterpretation of events and another propaganda tool. The final document was not finished until 1981, following over 6 redrafts by groups of senior journalists and propagandists. This document still has repercussions in modern-day reporting, as in order to impart General Secretary Xi Jinping’s “China dream” the Chinese media are told to avoid covering topics such as historical nihilism, Western political concepts and constitutional democracy. Such censorship has permeated into modern media, where drastic efforts can be seen to control people's now unlimited access to information.

During periods of unrest and controversy, the Chinese government has the power to temporarily or permanently suspend access to websites. An example of this was when on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre they blocked search results for words relating to the event.

Commitment to such rigorous control is demonstrated in the estimated 2+ million people employed by state media to monitor online activity and the distribution of weekly censorship guidelines to prominent media outlets. This strict guidance and enforcement are designed to encourage journalists to censor themselves in fear of demotions, fines or legal action.

The state has also been known to imprison journalists who do not obey, for example in 2009 Nobel peace prize winner and journalist Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years for her activism around democratic reform and freedom of speech.

If this censorship didn’t seem elaborate or extreme enough, the CCP are now also impacting global media.

Journalists from around the globe have been subject to intimidation and censorship by the government, in order to influence the international opinion of China. This want to shift public opinion has been especially present in the last year with the uncovering of the Uyghur genocide occurring in Xinjiang.

Not only are leagues of the party using social media to promote hashtags such as ‘support Xinjiang cotton’ and to criticise particular brands, but they are also using it to engage in illegal activity. In March Facebook announced they were investigating the use of hacker groups, who used the site to gain surveillance of Uyghurs abroad, by posing as human right advocacy accounts. This demonstrates how the CCP have consistently utilised censorship and control of the media to maintain their authoritarian regime.

However, now more than ever it is important to expose such corruption and propaganda, with the ever more sophisticated and calculating ways in which public information and thought can be influenced.


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