The appointment of Chinese Government censorship official Liu Binjie to the post of dean of journalism at one of the country’s top three universities raises further concerns over increasing government control of the media.
The China Media Project says that State media had reported Liu Binjie (柳斌杰), the head of China’s General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) — the agency that licenses journalists and print publications in the country and oversees ideological training campaigns for media — will serve as dean of the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication effective March 1.
There is no doubt that Liu knows what a good story is, he must have blocked any number of them, but whether any insights from that privileged information will be passed on to his students is highly debatable. This is doubly so because it is not clear if he will be standing down from his current position or holding both concurrently.
It likely is that this is a move to lesson the amount of work Liu’s colleagues will have to do. If, before these embryonic journalists’ careers even begin, he can crush the independent, inquisitive and open nature that is at the heart of any good reporter, then the likelihood of the current students producing stories that would prove embarrassing or damaging to the current elite would be greatly lessened.
This whole thing smells of pre-emptive censorship.
And the justification will likely be that trotted out by repressive regimes everywhere (often in the guise of patriotism): ‘the role of the journalist is to work with the government to promote its policies’. I first heard this view point during a presentation from a senior Singaporean journalist at an editors conference some years ago.
A Cambodian newspaper editor sitting next to me commented wryly that he had risen to his current position because his government had assassinated his predecessor for writing critical articles. He said promoting government policy, particularly that of shooting journalists, was not something he felt comfortable with.
The idea embedded in the minds of l those in power that journalists should unquestioningly report anything authorities say or put in front of them is not an attitude unique to China, it is universal.
Politicians, like many others in authority, don’t like being challenged. New Zealand recently came out as one of the least corrupt countries in the world in an international survey.
But even in this “clean” c0untry where I worked in the 1990s I remember a police officer saying to me that he and his colleagues hated journalists and lawyers because they were the only people who could hold them to account and there was nothing they could do about it. It goes without saying that if he had his way the media would be run by police headquarters and all trials held before a jury of detectives who could be counted on to bring in the “correct” verdict.
This just serves to remind us that censorship is not a matter of technology like the the great firewall but an attitude that those in power feel they should be allowed to do as they please with no interference.
I should add in reference to New Zealand that I dealt with many police officers who did not share that attitude and saw it as their duty to publicize information about the activities of their colleagues that was not in keeping with any form of fair and reasonable democratic or judicial tradition.
These men and women would have been described by the late British writer and philosopher G. K. Chesterton as true patriots.
His view was a patriot was not someone who blindly followed the superficial jingoism that is often confused with a love of one’s country but instead was a person who forever questioned and challenged the standards of society with a view to improving it.