China's state media released a series of editorial and opinion pieces in recent days that featured some blunter-than-usual commentaries on censorship and the government’s tight control over news.
Earlier in the week, when Chinese officials confirmed a North Korean soldier had crossed the border and killed four residents in China’s northeast, the Global Times, a tabloid newspaper owned by the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, was not pleased.
In an editorial, the Times, which regularly gives government positions strong backing, accused authorities of embarrassing domestic media by slowly releasing information.
"It is inappropriate that no voice over the case, involving the death of four Chinese citizens, has been heard from the Chinese side for more than a week, until it was first reported by a South Korean news agency," the editorial said.
It went on to note that whenever diplomatic incidents occur in China, the public typically learns what has happened from foreign media or third-party reports.
"Chinese authorities and the mainstream media have no excuse for maintaining this norm," the editorial said.
Recent criticism not a 'one-off' event
That was not the first time this week that the Global Times took authorities to task for poor communication between the public and the media.
It also weighed in on a decision by censors to temporarily pull a popular historical Chinese drama, "The Empress of China," from airwaves. The show was removed so censors could edit out scenes that revealed too much of the main star’s cleavage.
The editorial did not disagree with the need for a censorship system, but said that "while it is powerful, it lacks authority."
When authorities use censorship, it added, "more considerations should be given to public opinion to garner support."
An opinion piece run by the tabloid this week waded into another debate over a live TV quiz show in central Wuhan that featured officials answering questions from the public.
The debate started to swirl when an official had trouble reciting a 24-character list of China’s socialist core values.
The opinion piece said putting officials on the spot and giving them more public and media exposure could help improve communication.
"Making officials face questions on TV is aimed at solving real issues for the public. It tests the sincerity of the government to gain public support for every decision it makes," the article said.
'Safe' targets for critical commentary
However, Jeremy Goldkorn, the director and founder of Danwei.org, a website that tracks Chinese media and the Internet, advised against reading too much into the editorials, which stick to topics that are not very sensitive.
The Global Times is both a propaganda newspaper and commercial enterprise and suffers from a multiple personality disorder, he added.
"It has to make money, so there is pressure to make interesting stuff that sometimes conflicts with censorship," Goldkorn says.
He said it is unlikely that China will relax any media controls over the next few years.
Rights activists have warned that the small space for free expression in China continues to shrink. Since President Xi Jinping took office, he has clamped down on civil society, strengthened laws that criminalize speech on social media platforms and tightened restrictions on journalists.