The End of Censorship in China and CIC Guidelines

In a recent article in the New York Times magazine, it was reported that China had ended a policy of official censorship of the press.  Said the Chinese Government official. We believe that our journalists are responsible journalist who understand what is in the best interests of China.  As such, we no longer require that all news copy be reviewed by government censors prior to publication. This was exciting news … but it required a reading of the fine print to understand what had happened. And the more I read the fine print, the more I realized that something similar had happened in America, both in the public press and other forums of commercial speech.

What China has done is replace the explicit censorship with voluntary guidelines.  The guidelines focus not on what can and cannot be printed, but on more nebulous understanding of what would be in the “best interests of China”.  In the enforcement of guidelines, China has turned to the “editors and journalists” to self-police.  The editors “know” what types of articles might upset the powers that be, and then “gently” steer the reporters to topics that are “more favored” by the powers that be.  The effect is much happier journalists and much happier bureaucrats.

Gone are the “confrontations” and “adversary” posts that are the usual fairs of relations between the FIRST ESTATE and the FOURTH ESTATE.  By enlisting the FOURTH ESTATE in the process, the rivalry is reduced to the “cutting desk” of the newsroom—a much quiter and less public place.  This is true because the valuable media franchise (TV and major newspapers) are owned by corporate interests that benefit greatly from the Chinese national government.  The corporate interests have much more to loose than getting a few words edited out of a report—their very franchises are at stake.

As a reporter explains in the article—we have a pretty good idea what will be liked and not liked.  So the censors pretty much leave us alone.  It is really easy.  We feel free from close attention to our writing and the government gets out the business of editing news reports.

In America … we have moved to a “corporate-owned press”.  We do not have express censorship. But we do have owners of media conglomerates who care deeply what the current administration thinks about what they right.  This is not new.  In fact. in “Good Luck, and Good Night,” Edward R. Murrow confronted CBS management in his decision on whether to air on his show criticism of Joe McCarthy and his campaign to “out the Communists”.  Then CEO Paley ultimately permitted the series, however at the cost of eliminating Edward R. Murrow’s regular show in place of “more entertaining” and “more profitable” broadcasts.

When it comes to discussion forums, these have been traditionally free from corporate economic “constraints”.  The moderators would review posts to block out spammers (yes they exist), but generally allowed free-spirited debate.  LexisNexis in setting up the Time Matters CIC forums—and they were set up with knowledge, support and consent of the Time Matters division of Lexis Nexis—sought to encourage an atmosphere that was supportive of the Time Matters product suite.  The result was the set of guidelines (developed by a group of “Certified Independent Consultants”—one of whom did a stint as Time Matters Vice-President of Sales).

Let us look at the Guidelines:

The purpose of the LexisNexis Practice Management forum is to establish and maintain an online community where LexisNexis Time Matters, PC Law & HotDocs users and consultants can come together to share knowledge about our Practice Management applications, tailor these applications to individual needs, and develop specialized solutions.

So far so good … My emphasis.

This forum is managed and moderated solely by LexisNexis Practice Management Certified Independent Consultants (CICs) and is for the benefit of licensed LexisNexis® Practice Management customers as well as other CICs. CICs are not employees, agents, representatives, resellers, or contractors for LexisNexis®. CICs are independent professionals whose primary focus is the training and support of customers. LexisNexis® provides the infrastructure to host the forum, but does not participate in the management or moderation of the forum.

Again … the Chinese model of Censorship.  But note that CIC’s do have “resale” rights for software and would qualify as “authorized resellers” under law.  We were required to execute a contract with LexisNexis to be part of the CIC program.

There is no cost for using this forum and a support agreement is not required. However, you must be a licensed user of LexisNexis® Practice Management products and conform to the protocols of the forum to participate.

Note the focus on protocols. So far so good.

In order to establish a positive, constructive environment in which issues can be addressed, all posts are reviewed by the forum’s volunteer CIC moderators before being distributed. Message content will not be edited, augmented, or changed. Messages not in compliance with the objectives of the forum will simply not be posted to the forum by the moderators and individuals who repeatedly attempt to post such messages may have their access to the forum restricted or terminated.

Here is the “meat” of the guidelines.  Keep them positive and upbeat…. or else, rejection, and expulsion from the forum.

Generally, LexisNexis® will not be participating in the forum and participants should not rely on the forum to communicate with LexisNexis® directly. If you have ideas or feedback for LexisNexis® regarding any of the Practice Management products, please follow the procedures established for submitting ideas or comments to the appropriate business unit.

Historically, LexisNexis officials have participated in the HotDocs list, and it was an effective way of communicating ideas to HotDocs developers.  This here gives notice that such a communication method should not be assumed … and in fact, posts that attempt to tell LexisNexis what to do with its product are rejected.  The tradition of posting ideas on the forum by HotDocs developers for discussion would not be in compliance with these guidelines.

Messages should include your name, firm name, city and state, which version of the product you are running, basic operating and computer system information, plus your current status regarding working with LexisNexis® Practice Management technical support (remember, call technical support first). Anonymous or alias posts will NOT be accepted.

This is a favorite … those who don’t edit their signature block to include City and State will get rejected.  It is not enough to just put in your name and return address.

This forum is primarily for getting the most out of the current feature sets and methodologies under existing LexisNexis® Practice Management policies and market conditions.

This is a clear call to focus on the “status quo”—and not what could be done. The next paragraph drives home the point.

This forum is not for discussion on matters not directly related to the use of LexisNexis® Practice Management products. Additionally, because CICs have no control over LexisNexis® product pricing, business practices, customer service, or technical support policies, these subjects are outside the scope of this forum.

Here is the clinch … since CIC’s are powerless … these topics are outside the scope of the forum.  They are deamed “not relevant” to community support.  This was clearly a response to the Elderlaw list where there were rants about pricing of Time Matters (a quite affordable product, given its benefits) and complaints about Technical Support that rose to the level of extortion of Time Matters.  Rather than striking a balance, all these topics are expressly excluded.

This forum is not for editorializing, broad qualitative comments, customer complaints, lobbying for particular features or improvements, or otherwise trying to pressure LexisNexis® into a particular course of action.

If you had ANY doubts about whether discussion of the future direction of the product, this last one makes it clear — not relevant … and to go back to the top, such posts will be rejected and if the poster does not learn, he or she will be expelled.  My query … would discussion of a true “bug” in the product … a feature that doesn’t work … be barred under these guidelines.  More than likely.  Time Matters CICs have received calls from executives at Time Matters who have acknowledged in “bugs” in public posts.

So you can judge … are the Chinese that bad.  Perhaps, it is they who have learned the capitalist way.