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Rebels of the old propaganda army

“For a ruling party and government to use people’s tax money to run media that sing their own praises is something not permitted in democratic nations... For their own reasons, they violate our constitution, often ordering by telephone that works of such person cannot be published, or such an event cannot be reported.”

world Updated: Oct 15, 2010 02:27 IST
Reshma Patil

“For a ruling party and government to use people’s tax money to run media that sing their own praises is something not permitted in democratic nations... For their own reasons, they violate our constitution, often ordering by telephone that works of such person cannot be published, or such an event cannot be reported.”

This criticism of the Communist Party’s ‘invisible hand’ is extraordinary for more than its free speech. The 23 signatories of this letter circulated online on Tuesday before it was blocked, spent years on top posts inside the propaganda and media machinery that control the information that reaches Chinese citizens. They include a former director of the Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, a former deputy director of news agency Xinhua, a former editor-in-chief of China Daily, a former news head of the central propaganda department, a former director of the News Research Institute of China's top thinktank and a former Party School professor.

They have revived a sidelined demand for a press law to empower editors-in-chief to clear news instead of the Party hand. They want the 50-cent army, paid per propaganda comment on Internet forums, abolished.

On Thursday, the Global Times, a People's Daily affiliate, lambasted the west for waging ‘endless ideological wars against China’. Meanwhile, ideological conflicts within the Party are surfacing between conservatives and reformists including Premier Wen Jiabao. The fear of faster political reforms was evident in People’s Daily this week, which said that ‘any disturbance from within or outside China would...ruin the future of the nation’. The columnist said China’s more secure than ‘so-called democracies shrouded by terrorism and violence from within’. But that’s the Party line.

An official analyst who regularly visits India said in an informal chat this week that she admires how JNU students with cups of chai debate on campus for hours. “Chinese students should also be more aware about their government,” she said. And a Chinese rights campaigner asked me why India is silent on China’s Nobel.