Free Speech for China?

It seems that someone with a bit of authority in China is finally speaking out against the repression of free speech.  Twenty-three retired Communist Party members have published a letter demanding free speech in the country.  An article containing the demands can be read here.

This is a huge step in the defense of journalists, whether they be foreign or domestic.  The Chinese people have long been unable to get the whole truth (or sometimes even any of the truth) about what is going on in their country.

The letter seems to be in response to recent controversy over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a human rights activist who has been in prison since June 2009.  According to an article by AFP, no news of the award was announced in newspapers, nor on television.  Even text messages containing the winner’s name were blocked.  However, journalists have fought back by finding roundabout ways to get the word out, such as by simply posting a picture of the man without his name.  The Internet has made getting the news infinitely easier for the Chinese people.

However, with 40,000 “net police” constantly watching what’s posted, getting the word out is still a difficult task.  That’s why this move on the part of the elders is so crucial to the lives of journalists and therefore, the lives of all Chinese people.

While browsing the Internet, I found numerous websites stating that China has the largest newspaper circulation worldwide.  As it stands, China has the largest population in the world…but newspaper circulation is among the lowest of the largest nations.

As the graph shows, China has nearly 100 million people, yet less than 10% of that population buys a newspaper.  Why is this so?  I have to wonder if the Chinese people have come to accept that the “news” they find in their newspapers may not be what they’re looking for.

So with that I pose a few questions.  Will this letter published by Communist Party elders do anything to end the long reign of censorship in the People’s Republic of China?  How will this affect the Chinese government and the Chinese people in the immediate future?  And what can we do as journalists to help further their cause?

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