Journalism in Communist Countries

By Leslie Hamilton, Features Writer

Currently, there are five remaining communist countries in the world – China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Communist regimes are notorious for their oppression of personal freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of press, which is something that we, as Americans living in a democratic country founded upon such freedoms, don’t quite grasp. In a country like ours, we are so accustomed to scouring the internet for the truth and having to evaluate sources based on personal biases, credentials, etc.. In communist countries however, the basic concern is what are they not being told, or what has been skirted around by reporters or censored by government officials. In China, for example, journalism students have reported to US News and World Report, that they do not feel comfortable with expressing their own personal opinions and that if they do cover something, they try not to go too far since many journalists, while inspiring to students, are often jailed for their “crimes” against the Communist party/government. China is known for having imprisoned the most journalists in the world; however, Chinese journalism students report that journalism in their country is in a slow transitional period right now as the government is losing a grip on the media outlets, where journalists can now skirt around searched terms previously blocked by government censors or finely toeing the line between criticizing the Chinese government and committing a crime against the communist party. Now that there are more independent sources of funding (mainly advertisement) for Chinese publishers, the Chinese media has gained some freedom from the government censorship.

Like the Chinese government, other Communist governments similarly control and monitor foreign and domestic news before it reaches their general population. In general, they censor stories that are found to be too critical of the party and stories on topics that news outlets do not have permission to publish. As suggested above, communist governments often censor search terms in order to control the information that the public has access to in addition to blocking search engines, “offensive” posts on social media networks, and foreign news publications like the New York Times. Similarly to China, Cuba is notorious of extreme censorship of this nature, having come second to China in the most independent journalists jailed. Ironically, Cuba does recognize the freedom of press and speech, given the provision that it is, “in accordance with the goals of the socialist society”. In Cuba, the government owns and polices all media outlets, all four news channels on TV, two news companies, over a dozen radio stations, three newspapers (all representing the Communist party views), and at least four news websites. In the end, seeing the extent that both Chinese and Cuban governments go to withhold and restrict information from their populations is disheartening. It is a shame to realize that there are still countries that experience this kind of censorship, some of them being former communist countries or under a dictatorial regime.

An important question that comes from looking at the heavy censorship of media in communist countries is: what comes of journalism and public expression of personal opinions in post communist countries? After so many years of oppression, the outright expression of personal opinion that is so commonly seen in the United States, surely can’t be something that is commonly seen or heard in a post-communist society.