Ban on forced paper-buying bolstered

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2003, 12:00am

Lifting the requirement to subscribe to official publications will ease farmers' burden, says ministry and a key party body

The three-month ban on mandatory subscriptions to Communist Party newspapers has received a new boost, with the party's central disciplinary committee and the Ministry of Agriculture linking the prohibition to efforts to ease the financial difficulties of rural people.

Earlier, observers had noted a weakening in the official resolve to do away with the unpopular, but lucrative, practice of forcing people to buy party publications

But the latest attempt to tighten the party's internal discipline shows this determination to curb the practice of coercive subscription goes beyond mere token gestures, media experts said.

'This is an effective move to broaden the agenda, pushing the campaign in the name of rural welfare,' said an editor of a party newspaper.

Song Jianwu, a professor of media economics at People's University, said that highlighting the importance of reducing farmers' financial burden would make it easier to close some rural newspapers.

Of the 2,100 newspapers published on the mainland, more than 30 per cent are party papers. Professor Song believes the policy will lead to the closure or merger of about 90 per cent of local papers.

Last month, the party's publicity department, the State Press and Publication Administration, and the Post Office issued a joint circular putting a moratorium on compulsory subscriptions, except for scientific journals, from July to September.

Since then, however, there has been some backsliding as trade papers were exempted.

Media sources said Li Changchun, who sits on the standing committee of the party's Politburo, had called the agencies behind the joint circular for another meeting as soon as he returned from his recent Latin American tour.

Mandatory subscription to party newspapers has been singled out as one of the burdens the public most detests.

Investigations showed that abuses were widespread, with the party and government at all levels forcing subscriptions under an astounding array of pretexts.

Private enterprises typically are forced to take multiple subscriptions of the official newspaper based on the number of their staff.

In some provinces, applicants for car licences must subscribe to the papers published by the local transport authority.

The Beijing Youth Daily reported that gamblers in an unnamed city, when caught by police, were given the choice of paying a fine or subscribing to a government-sponsored paper. Many gamblers preferred paying the fine, which was higher, to the subscription fee.

Many say the streamlining of the party and government newspapers could increase the pressure on some free-wheeling popular newspapers to take on the role of giving 'correct guidance to public opinion'.

But Liu Yushan, director of the publicity department, has made it clear that, while the party pursues market-oriented reforms, its control over the media will not change.