CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Media censorship versus social media freedom

HONG KONG (SE): While there is a popular perception abroad that censorship in China is an across the board restriction placed on the whole population, Mu Chunsan points out in an article published in The Diplomat on September 14 that in fact, it is quite selective and tightly focussed.

Mu says that there is a need to distinguish between social media and newsprint, radio and television, as while the latter are strongly censored, social media is not, except where it is feared it may serve to incite public gatherings or social unrest.

However, he points out that hate talk against Muslims is becoming increasingly prevalent on social media, while state controlled media has adopted the policy of avoiding reporting on Muslim issues in an attempt to avoid fuelling separatist movements.

Mu says that by doing so, the government hopes it will foster a “positive environment both for solidarity among China’s different ethnic groups and religions, and its relations with Muslim countries around the world.”

He adds, “It is within the government’s interests to maintain a sense of unity between different ethnic groups, but with the rise of Islamic extremism in the west, as well as within China’s western border, its netizens are demonstrating a growing resentment towards the country’s Islamic population.”

Mu says that social media is full of rants against favourable treatment being given to the heavily Muslim populated areas of Gansu and Xinjiang, as illustrated by the building of mosques and putting Arabic name signs on streets, to say nothing of Arabic curriculums in schools.

This leaves the government in a quandary, as part of its motivation in this policy is to curry favour with Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East, not particularly to placate its local Islamic population.

The seemingly innocent gesture of blocking off one street in Shanghai during Ramadan to allow Muslims a spot to pray to Mecca has also attracted disdain, as have complaints from Muslims in one particular spot about the smell of pork in the neighbourhood during the period of the holy fast.

Mu claims that this creates a dilemma for the government, as on the one hand it is trying to keep peace with its minority religious and ethnic groups and on the other, social media is increasingly attracting criticism of its policies.

Mu claims what is needed is a more rational and honest debate on the reconciling of ethno-cultural differences, as critical rhetoric is unproductive and damages intercultural relations within the country.

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