On Monday, August 1, 2011, the Xinhua news agency entered the most famous marketing forum in the world: Times Square. According to the New York Times, the Chinese company acquired a sixty foot by forty foot LED sign, in a prominent position in the Square. Yet, few who have seen the news agency’s ads on its new superscreen know the real story behind Xinhua. This “news agency” takes its cues from its owner, the propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. Therefore, Xinhua does not demonstrate objectivity in areas that are sensitive to its propagandist masters, like Taiwan and Tibet. According to a recent Newsweek/Daily Beast article, “In Xinhua’s world, the Tiananmen Square massacre never happened.”
If the Chinese government puts such heavy restrictions on companies that it owns, just imagine how much it censors press enterprises that it doesn’t own! What does this look like for political speech in China? According to Freedom House, “state control over the news media in China is achieved through a complex combination of party monitoring of news content, legal restrictions on journalists, and financial incentives for self-censorship.” The free speech activist group gives China a free press rating of 84, one of the worst in the world. For a nation that has impressed its neighbors with high-powered economic growth, China’s speech tolerance policies leave much to be desired.
Why would this happen? What sort of government censors the speech of its own citizens? A government that likes power. In a true democratic republic, free speech is nothing to fear, because a change of government is nothing to fear! But to the official who wants to keep his position at the expense of the people, free speech can be a nightmare! Dictators don’t exist in nations where free dialogue is promoted. The linguistic relativity principle states that each language affects the worldviews of the people who speak it. Censorship is undeniably an obstacle to language. Therefore, when a government keeps people from saying things, it’s actually trying to keep them from thinking things as well. Today, in the twenty-first century, in the so-called “Information Age”, over one billion people are ruled by mis-information! To restrict the speech of a nation is to control its thoughts, and to control a nation’s thoughts is to strangle its future.
A great disappointment in this area is the apparent complacency in the United States towards Chinese censorship. In fact, some American companies have gone beyond mere complacency to active participation in government efforts to stifle the Chinese people. Several U.S. tech companies and search engines voluntarily censor content in Chinese markets so that they can do business in China. This is shameful. America is a nation with constitutional protection of free speech, yet we do not hold the Chinese government accountable when it comes to censorship. So when a company, like Xinhua, with questionable connections to the suppression of free speech in China, chooses to advertise in Times Square, no one protests. Perhaps we’re too busy enjoying the economic benefits of friendship with the Chinese government. Perhaps we ought to care more about the Chinese people.
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