- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

China entered the World Trade Organization earlier this year amid much fanfare that the move signaled a new era of openness and free exchange in the world's most populous nation.

Yet while pursuing more interaction in the global marketplace, the Chinese government is trying harder than ever to isolate its people, cut off the free flow of information, and deny them access to accurate, reliable and credible news.

It's a losing strategy that hurts the Chinese people, hurts China and hurts the United States. Media freedom, including jamming, should be on Chinese President Jiang Zemin's agenda following his just-concluded visit to the United States.

As a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all U.S. international broadcasting, I've seen first-hand what China does to prevent its citizens from hearing the top-notch services of the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia

Virtually all VOA and RFA shortwave radio transmissions directed at China are jammed in some fashion. To overcome jamming and ensure the Chinese can hear balanced news and programming the VOA and RFA broadcast on simultaneous frequencies. The total cost of transmission in Cantonese, Mandarin, Tibetan and Uighur: $9.5 million. Engineers estimate they could save U.S. taxpayers half that amount if the Chinese let our broadcasts air without interference.

Ironically, jamming appears to have increased in recent years, particularly in places like Tibet.

And while China jams VOA and RFA, the United States allows China's government television, CCTV, on many cable systems across the country. And China Radio International, China's government radio, broadcasts unjammed on shortwave and on a number of affiliated AM and FM radio stations in the United States. What's fair about that?

As has been widely reported, the Chinese government is determined to censor the fast-growing Internet by blocking a number of sites, including those of VOA and RFA. The popular search engine, Google, was blocked for a time earlier this month because it didn't weed out "subversive material." E-mails are also blocked.

Moreover, the United States should demand reciprocity on numbers of journalists. VOA has two full-time journalists based in China, but it's been unable to secure visas for two more. RFA has no fulltime, China-based staff members. On the other hand, China has at least 40 government-employed journalists in the United States.

At the very least, we should not issue any more visas or renewals until numbers are equal or both sides are satisfied with the numbers.

Does it matter to the United States if China restricts the information its citizens receive? Emphatically, yes. First, it's a matter of human rights. Every person deserves the right to obtain accurate news.

Second, the Chinese people know woefully little about the United States. Surveys show a disturbing 68 percent of urban dwellers in China consider the United States their country's No. 1 enemy.

Many Chinese believe that they understand the United States quite well from syndicated American sitcoms, movies and music videos. This often-distorted picture of life in the United States presents a major problem for the development of a healthy, long-term U.S.-Chinese relationship.

Controls on outside media have allowed the Chinese government to manipulate the news and to block the United States from telling its side of the story, sometimes with adverse results.

In April 2001, Chinese domestic media presented a one-sided version of what happened to the U.S. "spy plane" that was captured. Finding anyone in China who had heard the U.S. version was difficult.

The bottom line: The United States, now engaged in a global war on terrorism, cannot afford to have 1.2 billion people, about 18 percent of the world's population, so ill-informed about our people, our culture, our democracy, our freedoms and our government policies.

The Bush administration has put public diplomacy winning hearts and minds on the front burner. If we're to win those hearts and minds, we must tell our story accurately and fairly through U.S. international broadcasting. Media is a big part of the problem in China and elsewhere around the world and the U.S. government should have a strong media solution.

Edward Kaufman is a senior lecturing fellow at Duke University's schools of law and business.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide