The editors of the Christian Science Monitor complain about the Chinese government’s censoring of its press’s reports of bad economic news:
It is one thing for a government that spies on others to keep that fact a secret and even go after an employee – such as Edward Snowden – who leaks such secrets. But is it right for a government to also deny facts about the economy and then attack the messengers of those facts?
China is the latest example of this problem in which a country tries to defy the demand of global markets for transparency and honesty in financial data. Last week, the propaganda arm of the Communist Party ordered Chinese media not to use words such as “cash crunch” or “inadequate liquidity” in reporting on what has been obvious for weeks: a near-panic in financial markets as the government tries to rein in a shadow banking industry that has doubled the amount of loans in three years.
How different is a press that is compliant with authorities, to the degree of suppressing genuine news that the government finds embarrassing, from that? I would suggest that the effect is no different.
The example of the press’s treatment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 80 years ago, concealing the degree to which he was incapacited by paralytic disease, whether poliomyelitis or, as has been suggested more recently, Guillain-Barré syndrome, is well known. It has happened here. Can servile media compliance with the government or self-censorship happen here?
The editors of the Washington Post’s advocacy of jail time for one of its own reporters sources if not a case in point is certainly food for thought. The information is already out there, published by several other newspapers. Is national security a reasonable explanation for the Post’s views? Is there a difference between publishing troop movements and publishing the existence of the widespread gathering of telephone and Internet activity? I think we should certainly be discussing whether there is, in fact, a difference.
Is that the real reason for the Post’s views? Or are they trying to preserve contact with administration sources? Preservation to what end if they’re not willing to publish information that’s damaging or, at least, embarrassing to the administration? So they can publish White House press releases? How different is that in effect from submitting their reporting to a government department of censorship?
My own view is that the press should be neither compliant with administrations nor hostile to them. It should report the news and let the chips fall where they may. Picking favored administrations and unfavored ones like some Star Chamber may be gratifying to the editors of the big news outlets but it isn’t journalism and it doesn’t serve the interests of the country.