American journalists might find Qian Dong a walking oxymoron: Dong is a Chinese reporter who endorses government censorship.
Dong, a news anchor and commentator on political, social and economic issues for China Central Television, explained her take on Chinese-American relations, journalistic practices in China and government censorship during a Morse College Master’s Tea on Thursday. China’s rapidly evolving economy and the information age are changing the face of journalism in China, she said.
The government ought to exert control over what citizens read and hear, Dong said, because journalists need direction.
“I don’t think too [many restrictions are] a good thing, but there should be some guidance,” especially with political issues relating to Taiwan, she said. Citizens and the media “should follow the government,” she said.
But Chinese citizens who want uncensored news can use the Internet to read foreign news outlets such as the New York Times, Dong said. Online news is a popular source of information for the educated, she said.
The Internet is a catalyst for change in the Chinese media, which are often viewed by the West as highly censored and undemocratic, she said. As more and more Chinese citizens gain access to the Web and China advances economically and as a global power, the government’s ability to censor is reduced, she said.
“The influence of the Internet is very huge,” Dong said. “[Officials] know everything that happens in China, but they have no power to change it.”
Most censorship comes at the level of the national government, Dong said. She said local governments are frequently criticized in the media.
One especially sensitive topic of media coverage is Taiwan, she said. Dong said reporters must refer to Taiwan as “the 19th province” and not as an independent nation.
“If I do not write that, I will face a very critical situation,” she said.
When the New York Times published an article about the environmental and humanitarian issues surrounding the Three Gorges Dam earlier this month, Chinese officials and media outlets responded quickly. But Chinese citizens remain largely in the dark about the dam and the controversy surrounding it, Dong said.
“For Chinese people, the only thing we know is that the Three Gorges Dam is a good thing,” she said. “We are not allowed to carry the discussion about the Three Gorges Dam to the audience.”
But despite the fact that some discussions are stifled in China, Dong said the government is justified in controlling what its citizens read, see and hear.
Despite the country’s rapidly developing economy, China still faces major setbacks in developing its higher education system, Dong said. For example, she said academic dishonesty is rampant in schools, and, in many cases, students pay for theses written by others, rather than writing them on their own.
Yingqun Huang, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, said scholars and students at Chinese universities sometimes emphasize quantity over quality.
“I really worry about thesis quality — it’s really bad,” she said. ”One professor can have ten Ph.D. students, but they’re not well guided. Sometimes, they don’t even know the names of the Ph.D. students.”
But Xiaoling Sun, an English professor at Central South University in Hunan, China, who is a visiting fellow at Yale, said Dong’s allegations are overblown. Academic dishonesty is a “universal phenomenon” that extends to institutions around the world, including in the United States, she said.