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Open letter from ex party officials calls for end to media censorship in China

October 17, 2010

Ex-officials demand party grants freedom of speech
South China Morning Post (SCMP)
October 13, 2010

A group of former high-ranking political and
cultural officials published a rare, strongly
worded open letter to the top legislature calling
mainland media censorship unconstitutional and saying it should be abolished.

They also demanded that media products and books
from Hong Kong and Macau - popular among mainland
readers - be made openly available on mainland newsstands and in bookstores.

The letter, published online, calls the lack of
free speech, which is enshrined in the 1982
constitution, a "scandal of the world history of
democracy". It even cites Hong Kong in the
colonial era as an example of somewhere that
enjoyed freedom of speech and publication. In
particular, the group of 23 well-known
individuals condemned the Communist Party's
central propaganda department as the "black hand"
with a clandestine power to censor even Premier
Wen Jiabao's repeated calls for political reform
and to deprive the people their right to learn about it.

For the last few weeks, well-connected
professionals in Beijing have been talking about
the party propaganda authorities' almost open
insult to the premier by deleting his points on
political reform the day after he made his speech in Shenzhen.

Open letters of this kind rarely lead to any
reform, but can land the authors in trouble with
the authorities. However, in this case, the high
profile of the signatories means they are unlikely to be punished.

The open letter coincided with the imprisoned
dissident Liu Xiaobo's winning of the Nobel Peace
Prize on Friday. But several initiators of it
said the two events were unrelated; rather, the
open letter had been initiated earlier than the
announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize and was
directly triggered by the injustice to Xie
Chaoping , an investigative reporter.

In mid-August, Xie was taken from his home in
Beijing by police from Shaanxi province, 1,000
kilometres away, under the charge of "illegal
business operation". But Xie and his supporters
believe the actual reason was the book that he
had published about forced migration to make way
for a water project and related official
corruption. Xie was released after 30 days'
detention for lack of evidence but still has to
spend the next year "waiting for trial".

Among the leading sponsors are Li Rui, former
secretary of Mao Zedong who was sacked after
disagreeing with Mao's disastrous economic
programme; and Hu Jiwei, former publisher of the
party's mouthpiece the People's Daily, who was
removed for trying to reflect the people's
voices. Both men are in their 90s. Li confirmed
that he had put his name on the open letter.

Zhong Peizhang , former news bureau chief of the
Central Propaganda Department and another sponsor
of the letter, said the petition was to fight for
the rights of expression. He said the current
press environment was unsatisfactory.

Author Tie Liu , another sponsor, said Xie
Chaoping's case was a brilliant opportunity that
the sponsors should grab. "These veteran media
professionals have not been able to speak their
minds for so long that they all felt bottled up
and frustrated," Tie said. "The situation the press is in must change."

"The press environment has deteriorated in recent
decades," said Tie, citing in the letter the
example of Li Rui's article, which could be
published in 1981 but was just recently censored
from a book. "As the radio, TV, print media and
the internet are all tightly controlled, people
nowadays have no channels to file their petitions
but sometimes have to turn to foreigners. This
could lead to chaos and public disturbance."

He said he had received more than 500 signatures
from people aged from their early 20s to 97. "All
petition signatories used their real names, and
90 per cent of them are party members," Tie said.

Sha Yexin , author and former president of
Shanghai People's Art Theatre, said freedoms of
the press and expression were better for the
party's governing in the long run if they were
ensured. "Freedom of the press actually serves as
a decompressor," Sha said, adding that the
suppression of information and a totalitarian
society were behind disasters such as the
Cultural Revolution and the anti-rightist campaign.

Dai Qing , an author and activist, said even if
there was a 0.001 percent chance the petition
would lead to change then it must be done.

The open letter begins by citing article 35 of
the Chinese Constitution (the 1982 edition) that
all citizens have freedoms of speech, of
publication, of assembly, of association and of
demonstration. But it points out that for 28
years these constitutional rights have

existed only in words but never really in practice.

Citing words by President Hu Jintao and Wen in
support of freedom of speech, the open letter
says the reality in today's China is worse than
that of the former British colony of Hong Kong,
where mainlanders can find many books on Chinese
politics they can't find at home.

Sponsors of the open letter seemed most outraged
by the fact that even Wen had been censored. They
cited examples of his speech in Shenzhen on
August 21, a talk with journalists in the US on
September 22 and his speech to the United Nations
General Assembly on September 23.

Wen talked about political reform on all those
occasions, but it was not mentioned in reports by Xinhua.

"What right does the Central Propaganda
Department have," the open letter asked, "to
place itself even above the Communist Party
Central Committee, and above the State Council?"
Wen, as premier, heads the State Council - the
executive branch of the state elected by the National People's Congress.

The letter calls on the NPC to enact a new law of
news and publication to replace "the countless
rules and regulations" that hamper freedoms of speech and publication.

Most importantly, it says the media should gain
its "relative independence" from direct control
by the party or state apparatus. It notes that
the mainland's censorship system lags  behind
Britain by 315 years and France by 129 years.

The signatories to the letter include:

1. Li Rui, former deputy head of the CCP
Organisation Department/former secretary for Mao Zedong
2. Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of People's Daily
3. Yu You, former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily
Li Pu, former vice-president of Xinhua News Agency
4. Zhong Peizhang, former chief of News Bureau of
the CCP Central Propaganda Department
5. Jiang Ping, former President of China
University of Political Science and Law
6. Zhou Shaoming, former deputy director of
political dept of Guangzhou Military Command
7. Zhang Zhongpei, former head of Palace Museum;
head of council of Archaeological Society of China
8. Du Guang, professor of the Central Party School
9. Guo Daohui, former editor-in-chief, China Legal Science Magazine
10. Xiao Mo, former head of the Institute of
Architectural Art of China Art Academy
11. Zhuang Puming, former vice-president, People's Publishing House
12. Hu Fuchen, former editor-in-chief, China Worker Publishing House
13. Zhang Ding, former president of Social
Sciences Academic Press of China Academy of Social Sciences
14. Ouyang Jin, editor-in-chief of Pacific Magazine in Hong Kong
15. Yu Haocheng, former president of Qunzhong Press
16. Zhang Qing, former president of China Film Publishing House
17. Yu Yueting, former president of Fujian TV station
18. Sha Yexin , former president, Shanghai People's Art Theatre, author
19. Sun Xupei, former president of Journalism
Institute of China Academy of Social Sciences
20. Xin Ziling, former director of Contemporary
China Editorial Bureau under the National Defence University
21. Tie Liu, editor of private publication The Past with Traces, author
22. Wang Yongcheng, professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University

Eight proposals for change that the letter seek are:

1. Dismantle the system where media organisations
are all tied to certain higher authorities.

2. Respect journalists and their due social
status. Protection and support should be rendered
to them when they are covering mass actions and exposing official corruption.

3. Revoke the ban on cross-provincial supervision by public opinion.

4. No Web administrator should be allowed to
delete any items or post any of their own items
at will, except for cases where the state
information or citizens' privacy is truly
affected. Abolish cyber-police and the "50-cent
army" [paid favourable commentators].

5. Guarantee to all citizens the right to know
the crimes and mistakes committed by the
political party in power; there should be no
areas in the Communist Party's history where
recording and debate are forbidden.

6. Launch pilot projects, preferably in the
magazines Southern Weekend and Yan Huang Chun

Qiu, in the reform of developing media
organisations owned by citizens. A democratic
political system should not tolerate the party in
power and the government squandering taxpayers' money on self-congratulation.

7. Allow media and publications from Hong Kong
and Macau to be openly distributed.

8. Change the mission of propaganda authorities
at all levels, from preventing the leak of
information, to facilitating its accurate, timely
and smooth spread; from assisting corrupt
officials to censor investigative and critical
articles, to supporting the media's supervision
of the Communist Party and the government; from
closing down publications, sacking
editors-in-chief, and arresting journalists, to
resisting political privilege and protecting media and journalists.
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