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“China Rolls Out Tighter Rules on Reporting”: Journalism, Microblogging, and Documentary

"Though I Am Gone" (dir. Hu Jie)

By Maya E. Rudolph

The New York Times reported on November 11th that Chinese government authorities have enacted “new and tighter regulations governing journalists.” These new directives, spurred largely in response to China’s rapidly expanding microblog culture and representing the continual tension between state-controlled and free or independent media, are mainly focused at the vast social network Sina Weibo, China’s answer to twitter. The CCP has always controlled Sina Weibo, which has become unmanageable even within the confines of China’s “great firewall” as the web’s most populous social networking and information sharing site. Seemingly, however, deleting or editing posts that suggest political or activist rumblings is not longer sufficient, with the recently approved regulations aimed specifically at curbing microblog reports from credible news organizations.

The Times‘s Michael Wines reports:

In a statement posted on its Web site on Thursday, the General Administration of Press and Publication barred reporters from directly including unverified information from the Internet or mobile telephone messages in news articles. The new rules also require journalists to produce at least two sources for any “critical” news reports and to personally conduct interviews when gathering information. False reports must be followed by corrections and apologies, the statement said, and serious violations could lead to the suspension or even the revocation of a news outlet’s government-issued license.

The new dictates, ostensibly an effort to curb “false reports,” “rumors,” and “illegal news publishing,'” represent increased concerns on the part of the Chinese government to tighten and direct information currents running amok through internet channels. While the age of Weibo has ushered in a new and still-developing league of restrictions, the recent regulations are only the latest in a long legacy of provisos censoring journalistic efforts in China. Government controls placed on reporting, from local or regional bureaus to news giants such as Xinhua News Agency, have been chopping, reconstructing, and, in many cases, meticulously censoring news reporting for as long as these media outlets have existed. While many reporters have learned to cope with such rigid regulations and the risk of censure, others have found the landscape of unfree press unbearable and have sought alternative venues to tell the stories of Chinese life today – often through documentary film.

Zhou Hao, the director of such incisive and controversial documentaries as Using and The Transition Period, turned to documentary film after working for several years as a photographer for Xinhua and Guangzhou’s Southern Weekly. Disillusioned by the immutable barriers of reporting for the Chinese mainstream media, Zhou began shooting independent documentaries in 2003, his work often probing the most veiled and liminal corners of Chinese society. Using, released in 2008, provides an undaunted account of the desperate lives of heroin users in Guangzhou, while his most recent work, The Transition Period, unfolds the complex and crooked architecture of Chinese government beaurocracy and dogma through the eyes of an ordinary civil servant.

Hu Jie, the prolific director of such documentaries as Though I Am Gone and East Wind State Farm, also began his career as a reporter for Xinhua, but soon turned his camera to subjects on the shadowy periphery of Chinese society. Though I Am Gone addresses a topic largely verboten in the mainstream media and often all but scrubbed from the artifices of Chinese collective memory: the violent murder of a Beijing school teacher at the hands of her Red Guard students during the Cultural Revolution. Hu’s 2004 documentary Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul also casts its gaze through the annals of shuttered history, reviving the struggle of Lin Zhao, a young woman whose defense of those persecuted during the Cultural Revolution led her first to prison and then to execution. In bringing forth these stories, Hu, Zhou, and others have begun to reach around the still-knotty terrain of government regulations and shed light on what has been too long hidden or simply restricted.


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