In China, No News Is Great News

By William J. Furney

The omnipotent might and financial clout of the Communist Party in China means the country’s leaders can do as they please, and if the wider world grumbles at such annoyances as human rights abuses, failures to come clean on the origin of the novel coronavirus and issues relating to Hong Kong and Taiwan, that’s too bad, because the mandarins in the halls of power in Beijing do not want to know. 

Nor do President Xi Jinping and his lieutenants want the massive nation’s almost 1.4 billion people to know what they’re up to is anything less than glorious. If they don’t like the sound of complaints from overseas, they simply pull the plug and cut you off. 

That’s precisely what happened to one of the world’s most trusted sources of news this week. The Chinese authorities are furious at BBC World News, a TV service broadcast globally from London, for the commercial channel’s reporting on the coronavirus pandemic and how it presented its reports on the downtrodden Uighurs in China (aka, the truth, as we know it, in the face of a China that tries to cover it up). And they’re irate that the UK has banned its China Global Television Network over its undeniable ties to the ruling Communist Party. 

Apparently with a straight face, the Chinese government subsequently barred BBC World News for “seriously violat[ing]” its rules, including that “news should be truthful and fair” and must not “harm China’s national interests”. If news is published in the interest of an interest, it’s most likely not news but PR or propaganda. 

The British broadcaster synonymous with quality and fairness said it was “disappointed” by the decision, and that the media corporation “is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favour.”

“The move is clearly intended as retaliation and its impact is to further restrict access to accurate and reliable information,” said Michelle Stanistreet, head of the UK’s National Union of Journalists. “More and more countries are reverting to tactics that censor the media at a time when independent, quality journalism is more important than ever.”

Her colleague Anthony Bellanger, chief of the International Federation of Journalists, was more scathing, saying: “China’s government, or any other government around the world, should not be restricting the rights of media based on such vague and unjustified concepts of undermining the national interest. This is a cheap excuse used to shut any media down.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said China’s move was “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom”, noting that the Asian nation “has some of the most severe restrictions on media & internet freedoms across the globe, & this latest step will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world.”

Sticks and Stones

But China doesn’t care. Even though it regularly shocks the world with its clampdowns on ethinic minorities and peaceful meditative groups (Falun Gong), introduces harsh new laws in the former British territory of Hong Kong and disappears whomever it pleases (including coronavirus citizen reporters, since jailed), foremost in Beijing’s mind is that the country is on track to become the world’s largest economy in the next few years and that it’s all about the money — and that the world relies on its cheap factories to get the products, including iPhones, it wants to keep the global economy turning. 

State-funded Radio Television Hong Kong is, meanwhile, dropping prestigious BBC World Service radio programmes, after the Chinese Embassy in London said the BBC had been engaged in “relentless fabrication”, and record numbers of foreign journalists are being expelled from China. 

And while the world abhors the military coup in Myanmar, with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi once again under house arrest, China has effectively supported the brazen and tone-deaf military leaders by blocking a UN Security Council statement condemning the power-grab — even as the people of Myanmar continue to rise up against the undemocratic act with mass protests.

Is it time the UN amended its charter to boot permanent-member China and its veto power off the council, given Beijing’s near-total disregard for the fundamental norms of decency in any country or society?

A Great Wall of Shame

The Great Firewall of China is designed to control what gets onto the internet as it’s available in the country, via laws and technology, and most of the net’s most popular sites, including Google, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, are not allowed. That’s way too much reality for any Chinese to see; we want you closeted, in the dark, so you don’t have much of a clue what’s going on. 

But it’s estimated, by various accounts, that up to one-third of people in China use a VPN — virtual private network, via an app or plug-in on a browser — that gives them access to the internet in all its naked glory, at the risk of a hefty fine, because daddy knows best, even if you’re a fully functioning member of human society and planet Earth and should have all the basic freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which China’s leaders make a mockery of.

How long the Communist Party can keep a lid on the free flow of information that most of the world relies on is anyone’s guess. The great people of China deserve so much better than their febrile leaders, whose increasingly desperate antics are leaving the world aghast and wanting to tune out. It can’t all be just about the money.

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