Media freedom in China as reflected in the development of the Sanlu milk scandal, 2008

Document Type

Journal Article


University of Queensland


School of Communications and Contemporary Arts




Castellino, D., Green, L.R. (2010). Media freedom in China as reflected in the development of the Sanlu milk scandal, 2008. Australian Journal of Communication. 37(3), 87-102. Available here


China's economy has modernised over the past 30 years, and its communications environment has become more open. However, China still censors and restricts its media, including journalism and public relations, with regards to political issues. As part of its bid to hold the XXIX Olympic Games, China undertook to allow greater press freedoms. During the time of the games, August 8-25, 2008, the world focused on China, but domestic and foreign observers were unaware that contaminated milk products were poisoning Chinese babies throughout that period. This paper analyses how China responded to the Sanlu milk powder contamination scandal, which became public knowledge only after the Olympics had concluded. Specifically, the paper discusses whether China restricted or censored coverage of the crisis, or allowed openness to the media. Chinese media reports on the Sanlu scandal serve as an indicator of how transparent the nation was in terms of media coverage during 2008, and its progress towards greater press freedom. This study indicates that China is still in transition towards allowing freedom for the press and that it is not yet open, accountable, or transparent. Further progress may rely on cultural, as well as political, change.