Subscriber ban aims to cut public sector waste

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 June, 2003, 12:00am

Officials deny it is part of a broader crackdown on media on the mainland

Officials are hoping that a temporary subscription ban on newspapers and periodicals produced by government departments will help to clean up a sector known for waste and bureaucracy.

The ban was issued late last month in a joint circular by the propaganda department of the Communist Party, the State Press and Publications Administration, and the State Postal Bureau. Newspapers and periodicals - except scientific journals - were told to stop accepting further subscription orders until the end of September.

An official with the publication administration said yesterday that the government was preparing lists of newspapers and periodicals to be shut down in coming months.

However, he pointed out that most of these newspapers and periodicals targeted in the clean-up catered for restricted readership - usually within government bodies or institutions.

The majority of the publications were financed by government bodies which in turn mandated their units and departments to subscribe to these newspapers and periodicals. However, many subscribers - government bodies themselves - complained they did not want to waste money on the subscription.

The official yesterday said the government had tried over the course of two years to stop the practice of forced subscription and close down poorly run publications, but the efforts had backfired.

He said that many subscribers had demanded a refund after the newspapers or periodicals were closed down.

July to September is usually the peak season for newspapers and periodicals to solicit subscriptions for the coming year.

'There were many complaints before and there were problems like refunding the subscribers,' said the official.

There are fears that the overhaul could become an excuse for the government to get rid of tabloids which do not toe the official line. A small newspaper - Beijing Xinbao under the Workers' Daily - was recently closed down for publishing an article attacking the Chinese system of governance as 'feudal'.

But the official denied that there was any link between the ban and speculation of a crackdown on the popular press. 'Commercial publications will not be affected as long as they don't violate the law,' he said. The official said the government hoped market forces could play a dominant role in publishing after the clean-up. But the process had been slow.

'We hope that in the future, a publication's survival will depend solely on revenue and readership.

'But it is not easy. We can only take one step at a time,' he said, referring to the fact local governments might not agree to the closing down of publications in which they held an interest.

He denied that the ban was related to the much-anticipated opening up of the publications distribution market to foreign joint ventures in eight mainland cities and five special economic zones - as required under the mainland's commitments to the World Trade Organisation - later this year.

'It is not as complicated as some people have thought. I don't think it is directly related to the opening up of the market,' he said.

Editors of popular mainland magazines said the measures would have little impact on their operation because subscriptions represented only small portion of their revenue.

Editorial - A12