Newspaper subscription ban meets opposition

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2003, 12:00am

Barely a month after the central government put a temporary stop to the highly unpopular practice of forcing people to subscribe to official newspapers, signs have emerged that the freeze is running into resistance with many publications seeking exemption, media industry sources said.

Last month, a circular jointly issued by the Central Propaganda Department, the State Newspaper and Publications Administration and the State Post Administration put a temporary stop to soliciting subscriptions to government newspapers, excluding scientific publications, for the year 2004.

Hailed as a decisive step towards weaning state publications off their main source of support, the order was also greeted with scepticism from observers who did not believe it would be implemented. Since the order came out, sources say, the number of publications exempted from the rule has grown, and now includes most trade publications.

The circular remains in effect only for newspapers run by 'party and government', which also happen to be the ones most capable of twisting the arms of prospective subscribers on their own.

'Governments at all levels treat the newspapers they publish as an extension of their authority. Subscription becomes an obligation,' an editor of a party newspaper said.

Subscriptions to various publications are forced on enterprises, which have to take dozens of titles every year. Some mandatory subscriptions are based on employee head counts, shovelling multiple copies down in the same chute.

Industry sources noted that back in 2000 a similar order to cut back on forced subscriptions fizzled out. 'This is typical big thunder and small rain,' an editor said.

But this time around, the government appeared to be more determined to close down some redundant papers. The prospect of throwing hundreds of reporters, editors and support staff into the rank of the jobless is unnerving, media experts said.

'Unlike employees in many state-owned enterprises, journalists are unlikely to walk away quietly,' an academic said.