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Southerland: Chinese Bloggers Bypass Censors to Break Stories

Interviewee: Dan Southerland
Interviewer: Carin Zissis
May 7, 2007

Dan Southerland, executive editor at Radio Free Asia, discusses whether Chinese bloggers can push for more open media in China by getting around censors to break news. He cites a recent story, which made international headlines and was initially covered by bloggers, about a woman in southern China who resisted government siezure of her property. Southerland concedes that most of China's roughly 60 million bloggers write about personal matters and, when covering news, often fail to include essential details about where or when an event took place. However, he says, “If everybody suddenly decided that they would stop censoring themselves I think they could easily overwhelm the government” and could “get a little beyond the superficiality” of state-run media. Southerland also discusses “online muckrakers” who uncover stories about local government corruption and push news past monitors by praising the central government.

But Southerland warns that, despite new freedoms granted to foreign reporters through the Beijing 2008 Olympics and stories broken by Chinese bloggers, journalists face greater restrictions under President Hu Jintao than his predecessor Jiang Zemin. He says one reason behind recent media crackdowns is that the Communist Party's National Congress, held every five years and coming up in the fall 2007, “looms a lot larger at the moment than the Olympics.”

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