Taking A Closer Look At Media Censorship Using China And The Uyghur Population As A Case Study

Media censorship is a problem that affects the perspectives of issues relating to citizens’ safety, rights and freedoms. It is not limited to one country or continent, and by limiting and controlling the press, governments can affect the ‘truth’ heard by its citizens and sway public opinion. Governments have ample reason to control the press, especially, to allow themselves to maintain power and/or public favour. However, this selfish behaviour has devastating effects especially depending on how the press is used. China is one of many countries that actively censors its media and its official reason for doing so is to ‘protect the country’ but the censorship is really for political benefit and control. 

In 2010, the government had issued its first white paper requiring all internet users within China to abide by certain regulations set by the government. In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping [from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who is still in power today] stated that  “All the work by the party’s media must reflect the party’s will, safeguard the party’s authority, and safeguard the party’s unity… love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action.” According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists from Elana Beiser, 47 journalists were imprisoned in 2020 in China, and its government remains the worst jailer of the press for the second year in a row. Zhang Zhan, a Chinese citizen journalist, criticized her government for covering up and falsifying Covid-19 patient numbers and was recently sentenced to four years in prison for her videos and articles for spreading “false information through text, video and other media through WeChat, Twitter and YouTube.” WeChat is a popular messaging app and the latter two apps are used through virtual private networks (VPNs) since they are banned in the country. Zhan had been arrested before in 2019 for supporting Hong Kong activists. The government’s control over its media harms its citizens, especially the Uyghur population where many are being detained in concentration camps for years and face forced sterilization, labour, and erasure of their culture, language, and religion. 

The Uyghur population is a mostly Muslim Turkic ethnicity who live in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, but the majority are found in the Xinjiang region in China whose population is approximately 11 million people. The exact number is unknown, but it is hypothesized that at least one million Uyghur citizens have been detained into these camps although the government claims these are for “vocational training.” Personal and family statements, released photos and accounts from politicians have confirmed the true nature of these camps. In July 2020, the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused China’s government of human rights abuse against the Uyghur population. China’s UK ambassador Liu Xiaoming denied the existence of these camps to BBC News’ Andrew Marr. China’s government has changed its narrative from denying the existence of these camps to saying that they were a necessary intervention to prevent terrorism. China uses facial recognition, DNA testing, and other surveillance techniques to monitor and control this population. China has already deemed Islam as a ‘mental illness’ and this Islamophobia easily allows for the government to continue to abuse its Uyghur citizens. 

China has been able to keep this covered up and beneath the radar for a long time because of their control over the media. Alibaba, China’s biggest online commerce company, recently told its clients that its software could track and identify Uyghur citizens, but it was not determined how or which clients were using this software on the company’s website. Soon after this information was revealed, cover-up news came out that the company did not use any ethnic tags in their software and “dismayed to learn” that Alibaba Cloud, a computing platform to help run businesses, developed the facial recognition feature in such a fashion. The company released a statement confirming that they would not use the feature to categorize different ethnic groups. These statements do little to provide any sort of support for the Uyghur population knowing the control the government has on businesses and the media. The government is still actively manipulating the press and abusing the Uyghur citizens within its borders.

Although there has been criticism globally for the government’s abuse of power, nothing has come from it. The situation has not improved for the Uyghur citizens or those in the camps. Larger global criticism or national criticism could have an effect on the government’s actions, but with media censorship within the country and outside, it wouldn’t be wise to rely on Chinese citizens to create a large enough movement to help the Uyghur citizens. A large global movement from world leaders and the United Nations could create an impact, and could have an effect. Emailing, or speaking to your representatives or ambassadors to speak out against these camps and to continue to speak out against them would help to raise awareness of the struggles that the Uyghur citizens are facing in Xinjiang. If world leaders were to work together change could occur, but who would go up against China? With the country supporting so many industries across the globe with their large manufacturing industry along with the many products that originate there, it is no one’s best interest to make an enemy or pick a fight with China’s government. However, there is more than just the economy at stake here. There are human lives continuously being abused, and for any sort of change to occur, especially against a large opposition, there needs to be massive and continuous support.