Chen Hanbo: How to Protect the Press Freedom Provided in the Constitution?

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(Report written for the CCP Central Committee Secretariat on 9 October 1980)

After reading Comrade Qiaomu’s letter to Comrade Yaobang, I felt deeply enlightened. The great importance of the incidents in Poland for us lies in the fact that the Polish incident is a historical warning, [we must] research the contradictions inside our country’s society, formulate and implement correct policies, avoid intensifying contradictions, and achieve the objective of stability and unity, in order to benefit the construction of the “Four Modernizations”.

Concerning publishing work, a matter that easily gives rise to contradictions is essentially how to correctly resolve the question of freedom of the press.

Our country’s Constitutions provides that citizens have the freedom of the press. In the thirty years since founding the nation, we have mainly stressed “public opinion without exception”, and have never earnestly implemented the freedom of the press. Afterwards, in spite of the policy of “letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools contend”, the freedom of the press could still not be properly implemented. In the decade of chaos, the freedom of the press completely became empty talk. Last summer, following the emergence of the “Xidan Wall”, spontaneous organizations and spontaneous printing, the voices demanding freedom of the press rose, and the number of people registering the publication of self-initiated periodicals with the publications departments grew in number. Recently (after the People’s Congress meeting and the Consultative Conference meeting), this sort of calls and demands again shows a tendency to increase. What now? If you don’t permit them to publish, they say you don’t implement the constitution; if you approve that they publish, there is the fear that they will make their periodicals in to things like the Hong Kong “Seventies” and “Contend”, that only expose your “inside stories” and “dark side”, this is not beneficial to stability and unity. Rather, this will not be easy to tidy up. Because of this, we have had no sound plan for a year, in spite of repeated research, we have only evaded and delayed the matter, we acknowledged that you have the freedom of the press, but do not grant you registration. This is absolutely no long-term solution. Because matters have been delayed until today, it will be inescapable in tomorrow. There must be a counterpolicy before the situation is acceptable.

The general principle to deal with this matter should be that implementing freedom of the press should benefit stability and unity, and the education of the absolute majority of the masses, and the tiny minority should be isolated and attacked. That is to say, we must ensure that the legitimate demand to publish of the absolute majority of people is protected, and that the tiny minority cannot cause trouble, or can cause a little bit of trouble, but is unable to create social turmoil.

We have started to consider a number of methods, which are:

I, Realistically improving Party and government leadership and management over publishing work, earnestly running existing publications (periodicals and books) well. Concerning these publications, we must relax measures, except for things violating the Constitution (as well as all kinds of laws), violating the basic principles of the country, or that are defamatory or absurd, we should not use administrative means to limit publication, truly achieve that different ideas, theories and schools can have full opportunities to publish their writings and works, ensure that these publications become tools for Party propaganda and public opinion, and are a garden for the popular masses to carry forward Socialist democracy and develop science and culture. This is to say, we must progressively ensure that the popular masses’ demand to publish is appropriately satisfied through running these publications well. Concerning problematic publications, we must adopt the method of discussion, we must generally not intervene administratively. Concerning publications that truly have grave political problems, and when administrative measures must be adopted, we must also not flagrantly interfere, but we must deal with the matter appropriately, strive to ensure that we can both guarantee the freedom of the press, and can prevent the spread of poison. Although it is difficult to avoid that a tiny minority of people is dissatisfied, the support and sympathy of the absolute majority means we are unlikely to lose popular approval.

II, Permitting a number of bodies, groups, schools and research work units that truly need to, and meet conditions, to run publishing houses, run publications (on a not-for-profit basis), and add a number of gardens from specialist workers and popular masses in many areas to publish their own research and create achievements and viewpoints. This not only benefits the development of science and culture, it also benefits the implementation and development of a democracy of ideas, theory and academia among the people. Naturally, implementing this matter may run into the difficult matter of paper shortages.

III, At the same time as earnestly doing both abovementioned work matters better, conditionally permitting the popular masses to run their own publishing houses and run their own publications (colleagues’ publishing houses and self-run publications). We must only grasp two conditions: first, authorial responsibility for political matters and second, own responsibility for economic profits and losses (they are to resolve printing, paper and other material matters themselves). Those agreeing with these two matters are to be granted registry. On the basis of the fundamental interest of the absolute majority of people, implement policies that are both permissive and restrictive. Those that are run well are to be encouraged in matters of personnel, assets and materials; those gravely violating the laws are to be appropriately punished; those not managed well will stop publication of themselves. In order to establish models, we must consciously give support to a number of colleagues’ publishing houses and self-published periodicals, and implement running by the people with public assistance. As there are clear political demands, and paper and printing materials are grasped in the hands of the State, there can only be a small number that can persistently run for a long time. If the Party and the government act appropriately and without mistakes in the area of implementing policy and managing directions, and the people who run publications or publishing houses can consider the bigger picture, remain conscious of the larger principles and put the people’s interests central, the creation of harm may be avoided or reduced. Weighing the pros and cons is much better then refusing permission without exception.

In order to implement the freedom of speech and freedom of the press provided in the Constitution, we must formulate a Publishing Law or a Press and Publications Law.

At present, constitutions of various countries worldwide generally include the freedom of the press, but the majority of capitalist countries, the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries in fact do not have or only have a little freedom of the press. Those old-brand capitalist countries whose governance experiences are relatively rich and whose regimes are relatively consolidated, have a set of relatively integrated bourgeois democratic institutions, they want a bit more freedom of the press, but they also limit this through all sorts of legal methods and other means, in order to benefit the rule of the bourgeoisie. The history of the Socialist system is relatively short, after we gained nationwide power, because of mistakes in work and destruction by our enemies, Socialist democratic institutions are not perfect. The question of freedom of the press has not been appropriately resolved for a long time, which is one manifestation of this. In the area of publishing, the Polish incident is a historical warning that requires us to start from the real conditions in our country, appropriately consult some experiences and methods from bourgeois democracies, explore and progressively shape a set of institutions to implement Socialist press freedom. Because of this, we should immediately set to conducting surveys and research, to formulate a Publishing Law or a Press and Publications Law for our country, and ensure that the freedom of the press provided in the Constitution is correctly implemented. The Copyright Law that is currently being drafted cannot replace a Publishing Law, because it mainly resolves copyright relationships within our country and between our country and the outside world, i.e. problems of property relationships in the area of publishing, it misters and protects the vigour from all sides through material interests, it serves the people and serves Socialism; the Publishing Law mainly resolves problems of political relationships and social relationships within our country, it benefits the political and ideological unity and capturing of the absolute majority, and the long-term maintenance of a stable and united situation.















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