Curbing the Media Is Bad News for China

Marxism is battling the market in China's rough-and-tumble media world. And Marx is taking a beating. State-owned radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers are competing to capture audiences as their government handouts are whittled back. Better-educated and wealthier customers demand more than the gray fare of a state press that says life in their country is good and always getting better.

Give China credit for gradually loosening boundaries, and for seeking advice on reform from abroad. The partly privatized Hunan Radio, TV & Film Group is giving Beijing's China Central Television stiff competition. In the wealthy southern province of Guangdong, Southern Weekend's exposes of corruption have made it a commercial success. Caijing, a financial monthly, blew the lid on a stock-pumping ring run by most of the country's government-owned mutual-fund houses.

But the ghosts of Marx and Mao are fighting back. In late May, the top editors at Southern Weekend were sacked. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists last month named Chinese President Jiang Zemin to its enemies-of-the-press list, noting that 22 journalists were in jail in China at the end of 2000, more than in any other country.

China is riding a tiger. Its increasingly knowledge-based economy needs a freer flow of information. Yet freer information will undermine the Communist Party. China's best bet is to pursue evolutionary change, as South Korea and Taiwan have. That means a more consistent policy of media freedom. While that may cause trouble for the Chinese Communist Party, it can only be good for the people of China.

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