Chinese Courts Embrace Social Media In An Attempt To Improve Reputation Of Legal System. Really?

Chinese courts will now use social media to broadcast judicial proceedings. The move which has been adopted to improve the reputation of legal system in the country has lot of exceptions too.

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Regulation can be done smartly without having a complete ban and the Chinese Government has mastered this art. The Chinese Government which has Jego_Chinese_messaging_appalways been criticized of regulating the press and internet is trying to be liberal in its approach. According to TNN, Chinese courts will now use social media to broadcast judicial proceedings. Nearly 1,000 lower courts have set up accounts in Weibo, the local version of Twitter, demonstrating a trend that runs contrary to their tradition.

The trend that has been adopted to boost confidence in the country’s Communist Party-controlled legal system has already seen wide scale implementation. The high profile case of fallen politician Bo Xilai where the Jinan court released a blow by blow account of the proceedings through its Weibo account was the high point of the social media adoption by court.

Recently another court in the southwest has released transcripts of 39 cases on social media since May. A Beijing court held a rare online question-and-answer chat session last week about a high-profile rape trial involving a 17-year-old son of celebrity singers.

The new wave of openness has seen light with the newly appointed Supreme Court president, Zhou Qiang, who has been under pressure to improve the courts’ reputation and has found a breakthrough in promoting openness.

Zhou has urged senior judges and media officers from local courts to catch up with new media, and said the courts should not only release information in a timely manner but also respond to questions and misunderstandings online. Chinese courts at various levels has set up 955 accounts on Sina Weibo by September, according to state media.

In the month of May, itself in southwest province of Guangxi, a three-member team for a district court in the city of Wuzhou has released transcripts of 39 trials through Sina Weibo, covering disputes over medical costs, divorces and failures to repay debts.

The new move by the courts are being appreciated by the media and law community in the country who think that any degree of openness is good.

Openness or selective openness?

All this new change is not as open as it seems. While China’s courts are releasing information online to build an image of transparency and improve accessibility, at the same time it is being termed as propaganda than transparency. For instance Courtroom audiences remain tightly controlled, and the courts can easily filter sensitive information as they release details via Twitter-like feeds. Lawyers are barred from live microblogging their cases.

Additionally, public attendance at high-profile trials is tightly controlled. The courts assign seats to trusted persons while turning down journalists and members of the public on grounds of limited courtroom space.

For instance in the case of Bo Xilai, the Jinan court has been accused of severely editing details about the proceedings and deleting some of Bo’s accusations against the government. No foreign journalist was allowed to cover the proceedings.

The new move seems to be a smart propaganda by the present Chinese government which wants to open up by going social but is also having a veil over cases related to its interests. Rather than a complete, ban it prefers to have a selective ban, a technique it is also adopting while censoring content from the internet. Indeed a smart play!