Agencies Responsible for Censorship in China
The General Administration of Press and Publication [新闻出版总署] is the government's administrative agency responsible for drafting and enforcing China's prior restraint regulations, as well as for screening books discussing "important topics." Specifically, the GAPP's responsibilities include:
- Formulating and guiding implementation of the development planning, macro-economic regulation goals and production policies for the news publishing industry;
- Formulating plans and organizing implementation of the quantity, structure, and distribution for the entire nation's publishing, printing, copying, and distribution units;
- Approving the establishment of new publishing units (including book publishing houses, newspaper publishers, periodical publishers, audio-visual product publishers, etc.) and publication distributors (including books, newspapers, periodicals, audio-visual products, etc.);
- Carrying out the monitoring and management of news publishing activities (including publishing, printing, copying, distribution, import, and trade);
- Investigating and prosecuting, or organizing the investigation and prosecution of, illegal publications and the illegal activities of publishing, printing, copying, distribution, and import and export units; and
- Examining and approving applications for Internet sites to engage in information services, and carry out monitoring and management of the contents of information published on the Internet.
The GAPP has the legal authority to screen, censor, and ban any print, electronic, or Internet publication in China. Because all publishers (including Internet publishers) in China are required to be licensed by the GAPP, that agency also has the power to deny people the right to publish, and completely shut down any publisher who fails to follow its dictates.
For an example of how the GAPP exercises its authority, see the Notice Regarding Resolutely Clamping Down on Illegal Publishing Activities:
In accordance with State regulations, no entity or individual may engage in publishing, printing, copying or distributing books, newspapers, periodicals, or audio-visual publications without authorization from the General Administration of Press and Publication.
More recently, in December, 2003 the GAPP announced that it was kicking off a year-long program to increase scrutiny of publications by banning 19 dictionaries.
China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television [广播电影电视总局] controls the content of all radio, television, satellite, and Internet broadcasts in China (including, where it is able, foreign satellite broadcasts).
China's Ministry for Information Industry [信息产业部] is responsible for regulating China's telecommunications and software industries. Pursuant to the Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services, however, it also controls the licensing and registration of all "Internet information services" (sometimes translated as "Internet content providers"), which are defined to include anyone providing information to the public via the Internet.
The State Council is the supreme administrative organ of state power. According to the website of China's State Council Information Office [国务院信息办公室] (www.china.org.cn), the SCIO's job is to "promote Chinese media to publicize China to the world, including introducing China's policies, stands, economic development, history and culture." It is also responsible, however, for restricting who may post news on the Internet:
- The State Council Information Office shall be responsible for the work of administering the operations of the nation's Internet sites engaging in posting news.
- News units establishing news websites to engage in news publishing operations shall report to the State Council Information Office or the provincial, autonomous region or independent municipality people's government information office.
- General interest non-news unit websites that engage in news posting operations shall, in accordance with Article 7 of these Provisions, after receiving examination and approval from the people's government information offices for the provinces, autonomous regions and independent municipalities, submit to examination and verification by the State Council Information Office.
Articles 4, 6, and 8 of the Interim Provisions on the Administration of Internet Websites Engaged in News Posting Operations
The Central Propaganda Department [中共中央宣传部] is the Communist Party's counterpart to the government's GAPP and SARFT. Whereas the GAPP and SARFT exercise their censorship powers through their authority to license (and rescind the licenses of) publishers, the CPD is the organization primarily responsible for monitoring content to ensure that China's publishers, in particular its news publishers, do not print anything that is inconsistent with the Communist Party's political dogma. It does this by:
- Screening all books and articles dealing with the Party's or the nation's leaders, significant political issues, and policies relating to foreign diplomacy, nationalities, or religion;
- Issuing notices informing publishers and editors what stories can and cannot be covered, and telling them what ideological standpoint should be used when discussing certain issues;
- Requiring editors and publishers to attend indoctrination sessions where they are instructed on the proper ideological approach to use when reporting on politically sensitive topics.
For an example of how the GAPP and the CPD work together to ensure that China's people are not able to print criticisms of their own leaders, see the Regulations Regarding Strengthening the Administration of Publications Describing Major Party and National Leaders:
4. When relevant publishing houses are arranging for the publication of topics for these types of books, local publishing houses shall provide drafts to their local Press and Publication Office, which shall read and evaluate the manuscript and offer their opinions, and after receiving approval from the Communist Party Propaganda Department shall provide it to the General Administration of Press and Publication for examination and approval. Central level publishing houses shall provide a draft to their responsible department, and after the responsible department has reviewed the manuscript and provided an opinion, provide it to the General Administration of Press and Publication for examination and approval. Manuscripts written about major Party and national leaders who are currently living must solicit the opinions of that person prior to submission to the General Administration of Press and Publication.
The CPD also works closely with the SARFT. See, for example, the Notice Regarding Strengthening the Administration Work of Provincial Level Television Satellite Program Channels:
(1) Satellite television channels shall strictly observe propaganda requirements, and firmly observe correct guidance of public opinion. With respect to reports on important events, breaking stories and other sensitive issues, they must obey the integrated dispositions of the local party committee Propaganda Departments, and strictly abide by Party discipline.
Customs authorities [海关总署] are under instructions to confiscate any publication that is "harmful to the government." Based on Commission staff observations and Chinese news reports, this apparently includes books and newspapers that can be freely purchased and read in Hong Kong.
China's State Secrecy Bureau [国家保密局] chills freedom of expression by exploiting China's state secrets laws and designating practically all information relating to China's government, economy, diplomacy, technology, and military as potentially a state secret, and making China's citizens, and not the government, responsible for maintaining these secrets.
While China's courts do not engage in actual censorship themselves, it is China's judges, perhaps more than any other group, who chill freedom of expression in China by imprisoning people who are guilty of nothing other than expressing opinions inconsistent with those of the Communist Party. Judges in China encourage self-censorship in the following ways:
- Chinese courts generally simply issue opinions that restate the law, but provide no guidance as to how it was violated.
- Judges in China do not consider whether a given publication actually represented any realistic threat to national security.
- Courts in China do not engage in constitutional interpretation and do not try to limit state power in order to protect citizens' rights.
An extensive list of Chinese laws and regulations that prohibit Chinese people from exercising their right to publish, including excerpts from relevant sections, is available in Chinese and English here.
Visit this page for a discussion of what we mean by "freedom of publication."