Price of news in China just went up

Bob Moon Sep 11, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: This next story you might well call the price of doing business in China. Foreign news organizations there will have a choice to make. Beijing came out with some new rules today. Censorship’s kind of a strong word. But it’s right on the mark. Marketplace’s Bob Moon has that story.

BOB MOON: Effective immediately, foreign news organizations will have to sell their products through China’s official Xinhua news agency. At the same time, the rules make it illegal to distribute articles that the news agency says would undermine or endanger such things as China’s national unity, security, reputation and interests.

Some China-watchers say it’s this very action that threatens to undermine China’s moves to embrace free markets. Robert Weil wrote the book “Red Cat, White Cat: China and the Contradictions of ‘Market Socialism.'”

ROBERT WEIL:“They’re really trying to have it both ways, to introduce these new capitalistic policies, supposedly based on an increasingly free market, and at the same they’re really trying to suppress information about the consequences of that in all kinds of ways.”

There may be room for some negotiation. Chinese financial institutions have a growing appetite for the kind of information sold by such organizations as Reuters, The Associated Press, Bloomberg and Dow Jones. Ted Fishman is the author of “China, Inc.” He says in recent months the Chinese government has become so intent on controlling information, it’s imposed similar curbs on foreign production of cartoons. Fishman says imposing restrictions on companies that sell the facts is especially troubling:

TED FISHMAN:“If you are a media organization and you thrive in an open environment, and then the Chinese government offers you access to a billion customers provided that you alter your information, or you use the Chinese news service as your yardstick, you have to decide whether you are going to sell the soul of your media business in order to have those customers.”

Reuters, which happens to be an underwriter of this program, told Marketplace it’s studying the new rules and intends to discuss them with the Chinese government. A spokeswoman for Bloomberg had no comment.

In Los Angeles, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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