New America Media, News Analysis, Xujun Eberlein, Published: July 29, 2009(Note: the following text is my original draft, slightly longer than the NAM published version, and with links to sources. - Xujun)
Two seemly unrelated but notable events took place in
(Update: I just saw that Danwei has a full translation of the "ten suggestions" today - h/t ESWN.)
Its bureaucratic style notwithstanding, the call to "tell the truth and tell it fast" coming from a government mouthpiece surprised some Chinese dissidents who have long been protesting
As if setting up an immediate reality test for the government's new media policy, that very day a large mass incident erupted in
As a test of the new media policy, it seems to have failed. For three days,
Meanwhile, Chinese netizens acted quicker than the government's media controllers, and one detailed anonymous eye-witness account landed on overseas Chinese websites and was circulated around the world. It could no longer be deleted. (An English translation of this account can be found on Hong Kong-based ESWN, one of the most popular
To be fair, for government-controlled media with a reputation for directing public opinion and suppressing real journalism, the attempt to "tell the truth" should be viewed as progress. The problem, however, is that the aforementioned policy suggestions treat telling the truth as a tactic rather than a principle; its author(s) apparently have not forgotten Mao's famous teaching, "Policy and tactics are the life of the Party."
While delayed factual reporting is better than no or distorted reporting, continued disillusion comes from the
Though the Tonghua riot appears to be anti-privatization, internet accounts of the incident indicate that the primary cause of the workers' resentment was income polarization and crony capitalism. The general-manager who was beaten to death, Chen Guojun, was said to have an annual salary of 3 million yuan; in comparison, a Tonghua Steel worker's income may be as low as 200 yuan per month. Meanwhile, the
Whether or not the Tonghua workers' accusation of "collusion between government and rich businessmen" is true, crony capitalism is certainly an acute reality in
The media policy prescribed by the Xinhua article, even if it were followed, does not address this problem. While quick reporting might dampen the escalation of netizen outrage, it does not help the steelworkers. These stalwart symbols of labor's contribution to Communist China point at the necessity of new reform, and not new tactics.