China's restrictions on media freedom are nothing new. This time around, the fabricated story of cardboard-filled meat buns by a Beijing television reporter lends weight to the government's excuse for maintaining media control.
With the Chinese Communist Party Congress approaching, Beijing has set out to tighten its grip on the media. The Central Committee's Propaganda Department -- the organization that monitors the content of the publications for consistency with the party's political dogma -- is kicking off a wide-ranging clampdown on "false news" and "illegal publications."
Such a "well-intended" campaign to sustain "harmonious society" showcases Beijing's lack of confidence.
To build a progressive and cooperative national image, Beijing has long been scheming to blind people to reality. The ban on reporting the real situation of the 172 trapped miners at Huayuan Mine in Shandong and probing the details of the deadly collapse of Fenghuang Bridge in Zhejiang exemplifies the government's reluctance to face the music. However, the disguise fails to whitewash the blot on the Communist leadership, and leaves the unnerved public to speculate, spread rumors and cast doubt on the regime's credibility.
On the other side, Chinese officials are running short of confidence in their subjects.
They have underestimated the citizens' ability to detect bias, distinguish facts from opinions, and reconstruct messages delivered by the media. Under the pretext of protectionism, the people's right to knowledge is trampled on and, in the meantime, the people are deprived of the opportunity to develop critical thinking.
China's media control reckons a bitter reminder -- to the world and to its rulers -- of a totalitarian regime seeking to suppress speech that they disapprove of, dislike, or simply dread letting their subjects know.