The Southern Weekly incident has caused widespread discussion over freedom of the press, especially on the Internet. Actually this is a debate that had already been taking place in China during recent decades, as the nation's news media developed.
Some even think that China has no freedom of the press compared with the West.
Is freedom of the press a principle that has a particular goal for society? Perhaps. Is then, this goal to promote social progress? Many will answer in the affirmative.
But freedom of the press must have limits. It should correspond to social demands, but also provide more than that. Once it has reached this stage, freedom of the press will be able to encourage the development of society.
There was almost no space for freedom of the press before China's reform and opening up. This reform brought us the market economy and new approaches to media operation. The issues that cause public discontent then began to appear in the media. The development of the Internet in China has further expanded the media's function of expression and supervision. Media critiques have become increasingly sharp. Today, it is not difficult for the media to expose scandals which local governments would rather cover up.
Generally, the Chinese government's attitude is to work with this process. Sometimes this attitude is due to its own initiative and sometimes not. There has always been pressure from increasingly open media, and this is always an unfamiliar process for governments to deal with.
China's news environment has undergone earth-shaking changes since the 1960s. Despite these changes, society has remained stable. Why is this? The fundamental reason is that these changes were carried alongside the changes in China's society and politics.
However, there are still things which Chinese media cannot do at present. For instance, the media cannot directly attack the nation's basic political system, because the basic political system is set out by the Constitution.
There are also some things which cannot be done today because society has not developed sufficiently. There will be bound to have conflicts in these fields. Administrative publicity organs serve as coordinators in these instances. It is simplistic to think that China's news management system only protects the interests of the government. China's news management system is walking a difficult tightrope between the nation's development and the development of its media. It has to promote the prosperity of news and prevent it from being at odds with prosperity.
Both China's social transformation and changes in journalism are accelerating. We should maintain this speed as well as the coordination between the two. Continuously reforming and improving China's news management are the realistic demands of this coordination.