Fri, Dec 24, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Democracy means more than just a free press

By Sun Ta-chuan孫大川

Ever since Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) rose to power, many are keeping an eye on how this political duo will govern the ancient and vast country, now undergoing rapid changes.

Chinese intellectuals and media in particular have been trying to test the new regime's limits in freedom of speech.

The Chinese government has never changed the way they treat intellectuals. Over the past year, the leadership has tried to tighten its grip over freedom of expression via its national propaganda machine.

In March, the general manager of the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily (南方都市報) Yu Huafeng (喻華峰) and its editor-in-chief Cheng Yizhong (程益中) incurred the wrath of local authorities when they published a report about a man who died after being beaten in police custody.

In September, at China's Fourth Plenum of the 16th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, Hu argued that control over public opinion should be tightened and fallacious ideas should not be propagated. Also, China's Publicity Department recently launched attacks against the so-called "public intellectuals" as well as "Neoliberalism." Hong Kong journalists have described the situation as "China's intellectuals facing another wave of tightening censorship."

What's more, there are an estimated 300,000 cybercops in China blocking sources of information which the Chinese government deems subversive.

Recently, I made a brief visit to Guangzhou. My observation was that academics and the media are bearing the brunt of criticism from the government, yet they cannot overlook the changing situation.

Based on conversations with people, I realized that younger media workers all seem to have a sense of passion and mission to be more outspoken and candid. Their positive attitude indicates a democratization of China.

In contrast with the tightening media control taking place in China, the liberalization of the media in Taiwan is on the other extreme. Fraught with? sensational, fragmented and exaggerated coverage, the truth is blurred and every piece of coverage can be erotic. Journalism in Taiwan is commercial and consumer-oriented.

Although Taiwan's media does not have to listen to instructions from Big Brother and face the Publicity Department's scrutiny, it banks on audience ratings, and is regulated by the market's rules of supply and demand.

While the two countries were established by Han Chinese, it appears that one side is "free" and the other is "not free." Yet freedom is not what people are really concerned about. The mighty are fond of deceiving and the general public are used to being deceived.

Some claim that unregulated media and freedom of expression are important measures of democracy. Judging from the experiences of both nations, this is not enough. Having only one source of opinion is definitely anti-democratic, but stirring media hype to make money isn't much better. We need other measures of democratic development, including religious or moral principals, humanist introspection, legislation and cultural characteristics.

Democracy is a mixture of values, permeating all aspects of life. Democracy does not exist because someone says it does, or just because everyone has money. It is fragile and easily destroyed if manipulated. Even Western countries often deviate from democratic principles for the sake of particular interests. Democracy is not something we should use to compare ourselves to others with or to flaunt before them. It is about humbling oneself and exercising self-restraint.

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