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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Media explosion tests China's control
By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Shanghai

At the editorial meeting at the influential newspaper Beijing Youth Daily, the morning news list is put together without too much discussion.

People reading pinned up newspapers
Newspaper walls - how the Chinese have got their news for decades

The editorial team already know the most important stories to include, thanks to the government's powerful news agency, Xinhua.

But according to Zhao Wei, the paper's home news editor, the only official requirement on her and her colleagues is to be responsible journalists.

"You might call it censorship, but it's not," she said.

"Editors get a lot of training, so they know where the boundaries are. What you can and can't print, you can't violate the constitution, you can't break the law and you can't publish stories that aren't true or affect social stability."

But Li Datong, the former editor of a high-profile magazine, Freezing Point, takes a different view.

"Editors in China don't edit, they're censors," he said.

"Every day, they make decisions on what not to publish, rather than what to publish. They have to attend at least one meeting a week at the central propaganda department where they're told what not to report," he added.

You have to do what they say. Otherwise, you'll lose your job
Li Datong
Former editor

Li Datong is speaking at a Beijing coffee shop, but we are having to meet in a private room.

A long-serving newspaper editor, he was sacked earlier this year for challenging the government's propaganda department.

Since then, he says, he has been followed and his phone has been bugged.

"Once the Central Propaganda Department says you can't do something, then you have to do what they say. Otherwise, you'll lose your job. That's how they control the editorial content - through the management of personnel," he said.

For decades, every morning across China people have got their news from public newspaper walls. There, you will find the main pages of some of the biggest newspapers on free display.

Of course all the papers, are government controlled. Typical front page headlines include "President Hu Jintao met with the leadership of the People's Liberation Army to discuss military equipment".

Change of control

But the news in China is becoming less stodgy. An explosion of new media means there are plenty more ways to find out what is going on.

Kevin Wen is one of the founders of China's biggest blogging sites - Bokee.com - which has more than 10 million users. But there, too, boundaries exist.

Kevin Wen
Bloggers know there are limits, says Kevin Wen

"We are a commercial company we have foreign investment... we have a responsibility to our shareholders and our users... if we allow anyone to publish sensitive contents the whole site will be blocked," he said.

Although they are policed, bulletin boards and chat rooms are places where opinions are expressed more freely.

Weeks before Shanghai's party boss Chen Liangyu was sacked on corruption charges, Chinese internet users were speculating that he would be fired.

China's web users are under no illusions about the limits on their freedoms, Kevin Wen says, but they remain hopeful for change.

"The outside media always remind us we are under censorship but we're really under censorship that makes us really upset. We know it, and we don't need people always to remind us. We hope it can change, but it takes time," said Kevin Wen.

And after a lifetime of battling with China's censors, Li Datong is hopeful too. Despite recent crackdowns on the press, he says there are positive signs of change.

"They are so afraid now, they don't even write their instructions down. When they criticised my magazine, Freezing Point, I asked for it in writing. But they couldn't provide it," he said.

"My editor-in-chief told me they have changed the way they control the media. Now they only give instruction over the phone. No evidence should be left. But they are so incompetent, how long can this censorship last?"




SEE ALSO
New China media curbs condemned
12 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Party elders attack China censors
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China shuts down outspoken blog
08 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific
China's censored media answers back
23 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Top Chinese press editor sacked
29 Dec 05 |  Asia-Pacific
China's breakneck media revolution
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Breaking down the Great Firewall
30 Apr 05 |  Asia-Pacific

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