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Pick a specific digital policy anywhere in the world. Explain its purpose and how it relates to its national or regional digital/media system!
This essay will discuss the purpose of the digital policy of internet censorship and how it relates to the media system in China. Media is the main means of mass communication, it covers the entirety of newspapers, televisions, the radio and broadcasting, the internet is also included as it is the most influencing medium around the world. As a communist country, the Communist Party of China regulates its media industry in an authoritarianism system that emphasizes the country’s benefit as the primary goal. The media industry in China is regulated by various government departments and regulators, the main purpose of this monopoly media control is to force media outlets to obey with the Communist Party’s demands which are to propagate positive aspects of the government and denouncing those considered to be their enemies in order to maintain communist political power. As China’s media system is a fairly closed system, its online digital environment is also considered as one of the most restrictive in the world. Unlike in the United State where online free speech is allowed, the Chinese government has developed the world’s most complicated and unbreakable online censoring system. This combination of regulations and censorship system are called The Great Firewall of China, its role in the Internet censorship in China is to prevent people from accessing foreign websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Google, limiting external information and demanding foreign media companies to adapt to its regulations. It is the monopolistic regime of media control that leads to strict internet censorship in China as the internet is the largest medium in China with more than 800 million users. There are few purposes for the Chinese government to develop a such strict internet censorship and closed media system. First, it is for the government to maintain its state power and preventing the flow, the government have to ensure that none of the criticism can threaten their central power. Second is to prevent to flow of unfavourable information about the government such as the information about Tiananmen Square protest. Furthermore, there is also research found that the internet censorship system is not only against criticism towards the government, but mainly to remove content related to collective action.
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For many years, the Communist Party of China has been controlling traditional media and new media through ownership, sponsorship and censorship. As the internet becomes an important medium nowadays, the idea of internet censorship is used by the government to interrupts media by suppressing online materials that an online medium wishes produce. To achieve this, the Chinese government employed an army-sized force, with more than 200 million Chinese online officers, to not only block web content but also to monitor users’ activity. Furthermore, Furthermore, penalties could be a method to control online content as well, these penalties include shutting down its media platform, dismissing any relevant journalist or getting arrest if any criminal evidence is found as stated by (Luo 2015, p.55). This internet censorship regulation set by the Chinese government results in a significant change in online media behaviours. For example, in 2004, one of the Chinese journalist Shi Tao uses Yahoo email account to send the government latest list of banned topics to the pro-democracy website in New York as well as leaked Tiananmen memo to human rights forum. As a result, Yahoo informed Chinese authorities and Shi Tao was immediately arrested and being charged with leaking state secret and sentenced to 10 years in prison (King 2013). The reason that China internet censorship regulation received a lot of criticism from the international community is that its principles are not clear and vague. For example, Section 5 of the Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations lists nine illegal Internet contents, some regulations in the list such as “Fabricating or distorting the truth, spreading rumours, destroying the order of society”, “Defaming state organizations” and “Inciting division of the country, harming national unification” are lack of a clearer definition as well as violates the principles of international human right convention (Li 2014). The younger generation think that the strict media control by the Chinese communist party deprive their human right and their opportunity to improve as scholar cant gain access to foreign academic material and local companies and foreign companies are unable to communicate with each other effectively, this is the consequences that a closed media system and internet censorship has lead to in China.
One of the purposes of this internet censorship and strict media system is to prevent the spread of information that is against the government, for example, the inhumane incidents of 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. The protest was student-led demonstrations in Beijing in 1989, it started with a relatively small gathering of university students and expanded to more than a million as citixens turned out to show their support for the protesters
(Anne Brown 2010, p.109). During the protest, students had occupied the square for weeks and demanding the government to end corruption within the communist party, to promote democratic reform, and to advocate freedom of speech the press (Anne Brown 2010, p.94). Until the Chinese communist party had had enough, they declared martial law and moved in the military. At the beginning in the early hours of 4 June, soldiers started to open fire towards the protestors, students and civilians were harmed when tanks rolled into the square. Estimates range from a few hundred to several thousand people killed. The movement was successfully suppressed. Now, 30 years after the protest happens, any information to the Tiananmen crackdown continues to be automatically censored in China and people who wish to pay tribute to the victims does so at great risk and is likely to be punished. Even though the Chinese government has done a great job censoring the related information, however, the truth of the event is still flowing on the internet outside China. This savage incident done by China has led to many criticisms from international communities, many non-government organizations focused that on human rights such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch demand the Chinese government to take actions like provide compensation to victims in the protest, publicly acknowledge the human rights violations as well as amnesty those who still imprisoned on charges related to the events (Human Right Watch). The Chinese government must admit that no matter how much suppression the put-on censorship, it will not erase the savage slaughter that happened in Tiananmen Square. As we can see, the reason China develop a world best internet censorship and closed media system is to prevent the leak of information that is against them or else the consequences of that would be terrible as stated above.
Furthermore, the purpose of the internet censorship and closed media system is for the Chinese government to consolidate and maintain their power of the state. As we can see in China, the main function of media is not for social communication nor a platform for the different groups to express opinions but as a propaganda tool for the government to promote their official ideology and consolidate the power of the state. The Chinese government claims that this heavy internet censorship is being done to protect its people when its clearly being done to make sure the survival of the communist party. The Communist Party of China would be afraid if they allow an opened media system and online freedom of speech as it would shift its power to the individual thus weakening their authority. Unlike the strict internet censorship in China, the United State is one of the top countries with high internet freedom in the world. However, internet freedom caused the flow of online false news as there is no strict regulation to restrict internet users from spreading and sharing things on the internet. According to the research from (Pew Research, 2019), around 60% of the Americans social media platforms users said that they have shared false information before, furthermore, around 70% of the Americans adults said that false news and inaccurate information has a significant impact on Americans’ confidence in political parties. Although social media platform users are conscious about the problem of inaccurate information, however, they still spread and share false information that they think is accurate and true thus result in significant harm to the country. In the case of United State general Election 2016, Allcott and Gentzkow (2017) have stated that Donald Trump would not have won the general election and elected as president without the influence of fake news. In July 2016, the no longer exist website wtoe5news.com published an article claiming that Pope Francis is supporting Donald Trump for his presidential candidacy, this article was widely spread on Facebook, and some of the internet users admitting that they actually believe in this fake headline. The website – Wtoe5news.com was only created two weeks before this article was published on its website, this website is not available online anymore, and the creator of this website still remains unidentified. According to the research from BuzzFeed News, they realise that the website belongs to one of the largest fake news operations in the world with a combination of around 40 fake news websites and they have published around 750 fake news articles in total (Silverman 2016). If China does not have the strict media control system and internet censorship policy, it will cause social media to flourish in the country thus wide range of negative expression and online fake news and it will be very difficult for the Communist Party of China to maintain its central power.
According to Harvard research the purpose of internet censorship in China is not to suppress criticism of the government or the Communist Party. Research stated that the internet censorship actually allows some of the criticisms towards the Chinese government, moreover, research also found that the purpose of internet censorship is to reduce the chances of collective action whenever any collective movements are evident online (King, Pan and Roberts 2013, p.3). The ultimate goal of the internet censorship system is to prevent internet users to spread inaccurate information as well as information related to collective action, no matter the information is in against or favour towards the government, the government still block it. These results show that the Communist Party of China believes that suppressing social media posts with collective actions is the key to maintaining power instead of suppressing online criticism. In China where the country adopts authoritarian system, the leader often cannot hear the voice of its people, therefore, as long as collective intentions and actions can be prevented, social media platforms can be a good option for the government to measure their policy. It allows the governments to evaluate the performance of their public officials through reviewing public opinion online so they can replace those local leaders with bad reputation according to these online criticisms, also, as stated by Dimitrov (2008) that the government’s regime collapses and the state become not legitimate when its people stop providing opinions about its government and become disillusioned with their governments. Online criticism is sometimes good for the government to evaluate themselves, but collective action is not, when people start to talk and participate in collective action, it might also lead to a regime collapse therefore it is right censor any content related to collective action. Although minor protest did happen in China every now and then, however, the online censorship system has become a great tool for the government to prevent people from organising group activities through social media platforms thus people do not have another way to convene the crowd for collective action that against the government. Overall, loosening the internet censorship and its media system can be a useful strategy for the Chinese government to maintain its central power by satisfying and eventually assuage the citizens.
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Overall, as a communist country, the internet censorship and media system in China is indeed a great tool to operate the country and to maintain the central power of the government. These systems could help the government to remove any information that is against them as well as getting rid of the issue of fake news, therefore, event like 2016 United State general election would not happen to them as the government regime might be influenced by fake news. However, these strict internet regulations have led to grievances from the citizens as some of the regulations are lack of clarification so that it is difficult for people to put a line and determine whether their information is against the government or not. Not only that, these regulations also violated international human right of freedom of speech thus people are unhappy and international community are criticising the Chinse government for not obeying the right. Furthermore, China as a communist country, the only way they could get feedback from the citizens is through the internet, however, China wilted this opportunity by setting a very high border for freedom of speech. Furthermore, even though strict internet censorship can prevent the spread of fake news effectively, but it also stops the true news from flowing into the country. In the case of Tiananmen Square, most of the younger generation does not know about the event as any information related is fully blocked in China, this lack of truth in the young generation will eventually lead to ignorance in them. When the Chinese mediums are unable to tell the truth, the citizens will never know the truth. As the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom, China should lift some internet censorship for the sake of democracy, freedom of expression and economic purposes.
- Dimitrov, Martin. (2008). The Resilient Authoritarians. Current History, 107 (705), 24–9.
- Jessica King, (2013, September 8). Chinese journalist Shi Tao released after 8 years in prison. Cable News Network, Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/08/world/asia/shi-tao-journalist-free/index.html
- Luo, Austin Jun. (2015). Media system in China: a Chinese perspective. International Communication of Chinese Culture, 49-67. Doi: 10.1007/s40636-015-0012-3.
- Allcott, Hunt and Gentzkow, Matthew. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. American Economic Association,(31)2, 211-236. Doi: 10.1257/jep.31.2.211
Craig Silverman, (2016, December 16). The True Story Behind The Biggest Fake News Hit Of The Election. BuzzFeed News, Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/the-strangest-fake-news-empire
- Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E Roberts. (2013). How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression. American Political Science Review, (107)2, 1-18. Doi:10.1017/S0003055413000014
- Jeffrey (Chien-Fei) Li. (2014). Internet Control or Internet Censorship? Comparing the Control Models of China, Singapore, and the United States to Guide Taiwan’s Choice. Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law and Policy, 14(1), 1-43. Doi: 10.5195/tlp.2013.131
- Human Right Watch https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/The%20Tiananmen%20Legacy_3.pdf
- Anne Brown, M. (2010). China – the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Manchester University Press, 93-127. Doi: 10.7765/9781526121110.00010.
- Pew Research 2019 https://www.journalism.org/2019/06/05/many-americans-say-made-up-news-is-a-critical-problem-that-needs-to-be-fixed/
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