As China embraces market reforms and opens its doors to foreign companies eager to tap its vast potential, mainlanders are enjoying many freedoms their parents would never have imagined. China has come a long way from the oppressive days of the Cultural Revolution, but its media still lacks the editorial independence and transparency that western people have long taken for granted. The recent conviction of Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong raised grave concerns about the safety of foreign journalists working on the mainland. The chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper has received a five-year jail term for spying for Taiwan. Zhao Yan, a Chinese researcher for The New York Times, suffered a similar fate - he was jailed for three years last month. He was believed to be the source behind a Times story which revealed that former president Jiang Zemin would step down as leader of the Communist Party before the news was officially announced. While cartoonists in Hong Kong frequently mock politicians, their mainland counterparts are not so lucky. Recently, Guangzhou-based cartoonist, Kuang Biao, was suspended from his job for drawing a weeping President Hu Jintao . The many threats and arrests made by the central government have not only drawn protests by foreign news organisations, they also stifle the creativity and professional development of Chinese journalists. Mainland reporters are afraid of antagonising the authorities, so they avoid covering sensitive political issues. As a result, the newspapers become government mouthpieces, praising the achievements of Communist leaders while ignoring issues that may portray a negative image of the country. Besides the restrictions imposed on newspapers, other Chinese media organisations are also not immune from government interference. In order to shield the public from undue foreign influence, authorities may even block websites that criticise the Communist government. From September 1 this year, local TV channels were banned from showing foreign-made cartoons between 5pm and 8pm. Coupled with the limits imposed on foreign films, Chinese people are deprived of valuable opportunities to know more about the outside world. With China coming under the world spotlight in the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, it is hoped that the central government would loosen its grip on the media and pave the way for the free flow of information.