Communism and Journalism: Do They Mix?

In light of China’s recent censorship of the English BBC website, this blog post will analyse the impact of communism on journalism, and ask the question, can journalism fundamentally work in these countries?

Back in 1956, Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm published their Four Theories of the Press, and ever since the book has been used a foundation in journalism practice. Within this book they laid out how journalism practice works under a variety of social structures, one of which being communism.

Whilst in a democracy the media has freedom to investigate and bring to light issues in the interest of the public, the media in communist countries is regulated, censored and in some cases, controlled by the government.

Whilst in a democracy criticism of those in power is an everyday occurance (thus, how the MP’s Expense Scandal in the UK was uncovered), under communist control criticism of the State is strictly forbidden.

For this reason, the media gives very little information to the public about their leaders and their activities. They are hindered in their ability to act as a watchdog for the general public, and this allows scope for communist countries to become very corrupt.

In 2010, China revealed that a new training system for journalists would teach them Marxist and communist theories of reporting, in an attempt to reduce freedoms of the Press.

Two years prior to this, Chinese journalist Li Changqing was released from prison after a three year sentence for reporting an outbreak of dengue fever in 2004 before the Chinese authorities admitted it. He was sentenced for “spreading false information”, whilst the Chinese government attempted to cover up the outbreak.

“It’s a risky job to be a journalist in China. To be a good journalist not only needs wisdom but moral courage.”

koreaInfographic created using Infogram, information sourced from CPJ.

Under communist theory, journalists in China that reinforce the State are performing exactly the job they are supposed to. However, this stops the ability of journalists to uncover stories the public need to learn about, and the media cannot act as a watchdog with the interests of the public at heart as we know it.

Being a journalist in these communist countries poses issues of morality and in many cases, fear. Whilst a story should morally be published, the consequences facing journalists are often so harsh it is not worth the risk.

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