José Miguel Encarnação
The task of analysing the reality of the Media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) faces a problem common to all researchers and observers of Chinese society: the absence of sources.
As is publicly known, the rights, freedoms and citizen guarantees have not kept pace with the social and economic development of the PRC, much of it, due to the size of the country and the diversity in terms of language and customs of the 56 ethnic groups that make up the second largest economic power in the world.
In recent years, if progress has been made in the democratization of the political system, under the current leadership of President Xi Jinping the trend has been of stagnation. The high rate of corruption seen today in the public and private sectors resulting from the lack control of Beijing added to the liberal policies of the previous president Hu Jintao, has allowed the Communist Party leaders and the governments of its provinces to enrich at the expense of state investments, with great losses for the People.
Contributing to this condition has been the silence imposed on the media (radio, television, newspapers and digital platforms) intended for the people to ignore the decisions of government officials and the collusion between politicians and businessmen.
Although the Central Government has plenty ways of knowing what is going on behind the scenes through official entities (e.g. Xinhua) or public companies (Nam Kwong), the truth is that lots of information held by journalists deemed important to the State, goes unpublished and does not reach the attention of Beijing in a timely manner. The Xinhua Agency which also served as a diplomatic liaison between the PRC and the United Kingdom and Portugal, during the handover of Hong Kong and Macau has lost much of the importance achieved under President Jiang Zemin.
Having said that, it would be expected that the central government would give more freedom of movement to journalists, especially when President Xi Jinping, who is waging a tough battle against corruption, could use these same journalist to be the eyes and ears of the Communist Party and the Presidency in the res publica, but the reality remains unchanged: the major newspapers and the radio and television stations with the highest ratings are financially and editorially controlled by official regulators, or big business with strong ties to the small sphere of power, whose interests coincide with State.
In recent years a surge has been seen in very profitable small and medium business with innovative projects in the area of communication, particularly in the IT area. The most paradigmatic case is the search engine Baidu (www.baidu.com), the third largest in the world. Although the founders themselves did not confirm it, behind the creation of Baidu was the intention to open an online news channel, which has been withdrawn due to tight restrictions.
In Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions (SAR), the situation is (apparently) quite different when compared with the reality of mainland China. Most of the media in Hong Kong is owned by private companies, often working in partnership with reputed newspapers, radio and television in Asia and Europe (South China Morning Post, TVB and ATV). After 1997, the voices of discontent regarding the alleged influences of the local government increased, however, according to annual reports, Hong Kong maintains a high ranking in the index of freedom of the press. The situation in Macau resembles that of Hong Kong, the biggest difference being the fact that the television station Teledifudsão de Macau (TDN) the station with greater audiences, is majority-owned by the Government and the publication with the largest circulation, the Ou Mun newspaper, has strong ties to Beijing through local entrepreneurs with positions in different organs of the Central Administration of the People’s Republic of China. Traditionally, Macau, journalists are not given to street protests, preferring instead to issue press releases whenever their rights, freedoms and guarantees are affected.
The Diocese of Hong Kong owns the weeklies publications Sunday Examiner (English) and Kun Kao Po (in Chinese). The former British colony is the headquarters of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). The Macau Diocese publishes O Clarim – Macau Catholic Weekly (Macau’s oldest Portuguese newspaper) and the newsletter Aurora (in Chinese). It also owns the Diocesan Centre for Media, which manages the Cineteatro de Macau. The São Paulo sisters are entrusted with the operation of the bookstore Livraria São Paulo, where all Vatican authorized books may be purchased without any restrictions.
While the differences in the mainstream media between PRC and Hong Kong and Macau SAR are focused primarily with aspects of the editorial forum, Christian publications face other problems within China: registered titles are legally limited in their scope of action, while the rest operate in secrecy, subject to being discovered and terminated and those responsible sent to prison. The number of copies is controlled and its distribution is only allowed inside the churches.
On the other hand, the freedom enjoyed by newspapers of the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macau is echoed in easy access to the sources, which include the news agencies (Asia News, Zenit, Ecclesia), the newspaper (L’Osservatore Romano) the magazine (Famiglia Cristiana), the radios (Vatican, Renaissance) and TV (God TV). Internet content is not filtered by any institution: browsers, webpages and links are available to the user, be it journalists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc.