In the aftermath of the Leveson debate and the heavily publicised phone hacking scandal in 2011, the freedom enjoyed by the British press has been subjected to relentless criticism. Contrastingly, China maintains an iron grip upon the reigns of its media, arguably using censorship to conceal the affairs of government from the public. Does China’s standpoint prevent the explosion of scandal such as that experienced in the UK? Is it merely another form of government control? Is it restricting the freedom of a nation?
Censorship has existed as a fundamental feature of Chinese government control since imperial times. In stark contrast to the freedom of the British press, Chinese media has never exercised the right to express a nationwide freedom of expression. In line with the leadership of its predecessors, the current Chinese Communist Party uses the media as a device to secure its national control and to reassert the legitimacy of its rule. Censorship removes the potential exposure of scandal, thus eradicating any potential threat that poses a danger to the ideological parameters that define the Party’s authority.
In China, every form of communication that possesses the capacity to reach an audience is strictly censored in accordance with government guidelines. Outsiders see Chinese censorship through an optic of oppression; viewing the restrictions of the press as an almost medieval approach to governance. Yet many Chinese businessmen argue that censorship has allowed their businesses to thrive, reducing the potential for international rivals to engulf the market and impose the perceived tradition of Western monopoly. Another interpretation suggests that control of the media prevents public exposure to scandal. A popular saying comes to mind: ‘what you don’t know can’t affect you’. However if an entire population remains unaware, surely this reduces the capacity for change, as they remain ignorant of the potential constraints and inequalities imposed upon them?
Censorship may be viewed as oppressive, however freedom of the press in not without its failings either. The scandalous activities of the British media in recent years has arguably reinforced the view that press censorship is necessary. Dominating headlines in 2011, evidence implied that employees from the News of the World newspaper had hacked the phones of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the victims of the London bombings and relatives of British soldiers. Public outrage ensued, leading to a succession of high-profile resignations, including Chief Executive, Rebekah Brooks. In conjunction the owner of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, has been subjected to extensive criticism and the impact of the scandal resulted in the termination of the News of the World, a decade after its first publication.
The Leveson Inquiry was commissioned in 2011 in direct response to the eruption of scandal in the aftermath of the News International phone hacking controversy. An assessment into the ethics and practices of the British press, the Inquiry aims to examine the ethical and moral practises that embody the concept of free media. The British newspaper industry has become a focal point of public inquiry, raising questions about the nature and benefits of freedom of press.
The scandalous activities of the British press have been reported on a global scale and brought the British model for freedom of expression to the forefront of international discussion. Whilst the Chinese Communist Party retains its vicelike grip on the Chinese media, the British opts to welcome freedom of its press. Yet it is undoubtable that the latter leaves room for corruption and scandal, whilst the former acts directly to conceal the actions of and potential humiliation and shame of its politicians, which could undermine the Party’s rule. Whilst the British policy on freedom of expression acts as an extension of human rights, the Chinese Communist Party refuses to negotiate on its handling of its media, utilising instead its power as a form of propaganda, legitimising the party and its national control. Censorship may conceal scandal from the public eye, however that is not to say it does not exist.