Internet Making it Tougher for China to Block Bad News

BEIJING ~ The internet, cellphones and other new technologies are making it harder for China’s communist rulers to block negative news, a top government official said in comments published this week.

“It has been repeatedly proved that information blocking is like walking into a dead end,” the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Guoqing, a vice minister with the cabinet’s information office, as saying.

Wang said local governments needed to be more transparent, describing some as being “too naive” in thinking they could hide damaging information.

“Wang revealed that some local government spokespeople used to believe that 90 percent of bad news could be muffled while only 10 percent would be unluckily exposed by the media,” the China Daily said.

He cited the recent case of a slavery scandal that emerged in China’s Shanxi and Henan provinces as proving that bad news needs to be managed and controlled, rather than covered up.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had been forced to work as slaves in brickyards for years, but the governments there refused to acknowledge any problem until relatives of victims posted information about the scandal on the internet.

“Keeping the information out of the media spotlight until the scandal came under full public scrutiny left the Shanxi government in a very vulnerable position,” the paper said, paraphrasing Wang.

Wang said the central government’s commitment to transparency, as well as new information technologies such as the internet and cellphones, were making it more difficult for local officials to hide bad news.

However, Reporters without Borders describes the Chinese government as an “enemy of the internet.”

In its annual report in February, the global media watchdog said that China, using “armies” of cyber-police, was spearheading an increasingly sophisticated movement by repressive regimes around the world to restrict the internet.

In a speech in January, Chinese President Hu Jintao also said that the central government intended to keep as tight a rein on the internet as it does on traditional forms of the media such as newspapers and television.

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