Recalling an Anniversary

Twenty years ago today, Chinese tanks rumbled through Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, with tanks and soldiers killing hundreds of students and other pro-democracy advocates who had occupied the public square for weeks.

The anniversary brought back memories of when I worked at China Central Television (CCTV) in 1993, on the fourth anniversary of what is called the Tiananmen Square massacre.

My wife and I and our two children had moved to Beijing for a year in my role as a Fulbright Professor at the China School of Journalism. In addition, I periodically worked as an “English polisher” at CCTV when an American friend in that job was traveling. The “polisher” edited copy for the daily English newscast and guided the Chinese anchors on English pronunciations before they went on air.

We also watched the worldwide news feeds as CCTV editors decided which international stories would be part of the English-language newscast. On the evening of June 4, 1993, the leading international story happened to be a massive student protest in Germany. But we didn’t air that story on CCTV that evening. The editor warned that if we aired the German student protest story, his superiors would think he was trying to bring attention to the anniversary of the Tiananmen incident, which was to go unmentioned on CCTV.

It’s an important illustration of the difference between government media and a free press.

The night of the 1989 government crackdown; Chinese photo

Tiananmen Square on the night of the 1989 government crackdown (Chinese photo)

Explore posts in the same categories: Freedom of Expression, International Communications, Media and Politics

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