Monday, June 4, 2012

China and Journalism: Can they cooperate?

On 6/3/2012, The New York Times addressed a clash between China and the Western foreign correspondents on teaching journalism – in a country with no freedom of speech, the latter are trying to teach the Chinese students about journalism. Culturally, these students were already accustomed to the government’s firm grip on the media; however, the recent introduction of Western journalism provided much commotion, since Western journalism is rooted from the strong belief that it should function independently as the Fourth Branch of the government to bring the “truths” to the public.
So, naturally, as the result of this ideology clash, both the students and the professors are simply confused. Perplexed in what to teach and having all of his values of free journalism challenged, one Western faculty journalist expressed, “I have great difficulties explaining this [conflict] to my former colleagues, who laugh and say,How can you teach journalism in a country where the government controls the media?’”

Nonetheless, as every system has its own set of rules, the Western correspondents still do need to abide by the rules and limitations set by China on teaching journalism, though they restrict the teachings and discussions of certain controversial subjects.  To enforce these rules effectively, the Chinese government deployed “monitors” to go to each of the classes and to observe and determine whether they are violating the rules or not. 

But the correspondents have not hit the dead end just yet. Some report signs of progress in China, such as the continuous invitations for the Western faculties to promote journalism, the relatively free talks addressing subjects of their choice, and more. Some, in fact, are brave enough to give stern warnings to the school and the government in interfering with the concept of independent media; Dr. Emmett, a US journalist currently teaching at China Agricultural University in Beijing, stated that, “they were going to send a monitor to watch me, and I said, ‘If you do that more than once, I AM GOING TO QUIT.’” No monitor was sent.

As for the students, their confusion from the ideologyclash led to a split of opinions. The first group conquered the fear of government’s punishment on conducting research on controversial topics, and went as far as to turn in assignments regarding many forbidden topics like the human rights abuse in N. Korea or the problems with China’s one-child policy. On the other hand, the second group was discouraged from further pursuing their careers in journalism. A student at Fudan University in Shanghai commented, “We are really tortured by idealism in journalism school… I am so confused, and I have so much mixed information. I think my views of journalism are now so strange. I am kind of relieved I have decided not to be a journalist.”

So, what is the overall conclusion of the foreign influence in teaching the Chinese students about Western journalism? Nothing is for certain yet, but the Western scholars are working restlessly, around the system and into the system, to propagate innovative ideas and values of the Western journalism in China. With their hard work, one can only hope that we may be able to see some progressive changes and reflections of Western journalism values in China’s newly planned development of a large international news agency, like CNN or BBC, in the near future.

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