Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famed American political sociologist and member of four presidential administrations from Kennedy to Ford, once remarked that “If a person goes to a country and finds their newspapers filled with nothing but good news, there are good men in jail.” A quick glance at the front page of China Daily’s USA edition certainly proves this true. Although the news is not entirely positive – even in this English language edition, America bashing proves commonplace – the front page of this supposedly legitimate news source providing international coverage is often dominated by fluffy articles detailing events such a melon sculpting and disputes over printer cartridge patents. On the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, an event which the Chinese government continues to deny, the front page of the China Daily US edition was taken up by a slightly comedic article detailing a rubber ducky robbery.
Although the foreign language newspapers disseminated by the Chinese government are aimed at international audiences who in many cases have access to reliable, unbiased news media, they still attempt to twist the facts of current issues and serve as a mouthpiece for Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views. For example, on May 27th, an article called “China to clean up instant messaging services” appeared in China Daily’s English language US edition. According to the China daily article the “clean up” aimed to curb the distribution of “illegal and harmful information” that threatened to “seriously undermine public interests.” The article went on to claim that “[t]he campaign will crack down on those spreading rumors and information relating to violence, terrorism and pornography, as well as those using instant messaging for fraud.”
Unsurprisingly, the China Daily article left out a few key facts and fabricated a few others. In recent months reliable news sources have covered China’s move to tighten control on various social media and networking sites. Their May crackdown on the social networking application WeChat was just the latest in a series of moves aimed at reigning in free flowing discussion on these forums. This came in response to the growing role social networking sites such as WeChat and Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) have been playing in spreading stories of government corruption and serving as sounding boards for discontent. Given the CCP’s recent steps backward into a mentality of increased repression, these sources of discussion and potential dissent had to go. The nature of the “harmful information” mentioned in the China Daily report was left purposefully vague. In actuality, according to reports by Reuters, China Digital Times, and the Amnesty International blog Live Wire, the accounts deactivated were mainly those of people considered dissidents or popular accounts that shared sensitive news articles with their followers. WeChat had quickly become a main source of news for savvy readers in China following the tightening of control on other sources of information.
The article skillfully blends reporting of an actual event – China’s internet crackdown, specifically their crackdown on WeChat – with falsehoods aimed at muddying the issue. China Daily USA is now available for free on street corners in major US cities including Washington DC and New York, as well as at the United Nations headquarters and at think tanks and universities across the United States. Despite its dissemination in a free country, where it is frequently placed alongside publications such as the Washington Post or the New York Times, China Daily still serves as a mouthpiece for the CCP to air its version of events, often leaving out key truths or apparently inventing facts of thin air. To the unwary reader, the China Daily article on the WeChat crackdown indicates that China’s iron fisted approach to cutting off avenues for discussion on the internet is motivated by genuine concern for its citizens, rather than out of fear that discontent with its corruption and policies of repression could be brought to a boiling point if people gain access to forums for discussion and information exchanges are not tightly regulated.