In coverage — or lack of coverage — of the floods in Shandong province this week by traditional media outlets in China, we have further illustration of the changing nature of the media environment. No longer are magazines and newspapers pursuing in any way in-depth reports or analyses, as they might have done before the Xi Jinping era, and social platforms are taking the lead, to the extent that coverage is available at all.

Also this week, an important change at the Information Office of the State Council, with close Xi Jinping ally Xu Lin (徐麟), formerly CAC chief, taking over as director there, where he will be in charge of China’s foreign propaganda. Meanwhile, the CAC is pressing online video platforms very hard to ensure that they get rid of unwanted content and more loudly promote “positive energy,” this being a Xi Jinping era term for content that emphasizes positive and uplifting stories and views of Chinese society, and which builds up the Party’s position within that narrative of positivity.

THIS WEEK IN CHINA’S MEDIA
August 18 – August 24, 2018

➢ Questions of Human Cause Behind Flooding in Shouguang, Social Media Fill the Information Gap
➢ Party Media Criticize Rights Defense by Jasic Workers in Shenzhen, Saying it is Supported Financially By Outside Organizations / “Leftist Youth” Come to the Fore
➢ Xu Lin Promoted As Director of the State Council Information Office, Bi Jingquan Sacked as Deputy Chief of the State Market Regulatory Administration in Beijing in Wake of Vaccine Scandal
➢ Documentary “Looking Back on Yan’an” Airs, Emphasizing Role of Core Leadership
➢ Cyberspace Administration of China: Online Short Videos Must Be Full of Positive Energy

[1] Questions of Human Cause Behind Flooding in Shouguang, Social Media Fill the Information Gap

In the wake of Typhoon Rumbia, which battered the coastal province of Shandong, a debate emerged online in China about whether human error might have contributed to loss of life and property, particularly around the city of Shouguang. So far, 24 deaths have been reported in the area, 3 people are still missing, and economic losses estimated at 9.2 billion yuan (US$1.34 billion). On August 17 and 18, as heavy rain pounded the area, local authorities in Shouguang grew concerned about the integrity of upstream reservoirs and whether they could bear the strain. They decided to release floodwaters to the reservoirs. As the floodwaters surged downstream, river currents were said to actually flow backwards along certain stretches, inundating many villages in the process.

According to state media reports, villages in the Shouguang area received notice on August 19 that he reservoirs would begin releasing flood waters, but they were given no time to remove livestock and other possessions. Flood waters had inundated the area by that night, and by the 20th Shouguang had already become a disaster zone. The strategic release of floodwaters from the reservoirs continued through August 21.

Shouguang Daily, the local Party newspaper, focusses in disaster coverage on what officials are doing.

According to an article released through “Xia Ke Dao” (侠客岛), a WeChat public account operated by the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the Weifang Flood Control and Drought Relief Command Office had conducted proper monitoring of the rise of floodwaters, but the question remained of whether or not they had properly released waters to lower reservoir levels as the typhoon approached, and whether they had properly implemented early warning systems.

It seems clear looking at the sharing of information on the Shouguang floods that in this case social media-based accounts and media look the lead. In one article, the WeChat public account “Mei Tong She” (媒通社) said that traditional media had been completely powerless throughout the story, and even 5 days into the crisis had not released a single influential in-depth report. Among local media, most coverage had been devoted to the holding of meetings about the crisis, and there was little actual reporting on the situation itself. The stale nature of the “reporting frames” (报道框架), said the article, were a cause for concern.

The “Hot Search” league table on Weibo (微博热搜) could be seen as a further illustration of the problem. Generally, “Hot Search” can have a huge impact on attention to an issue. In this case, search threads for “Shouguang floods” were taken taken at least three or four times, and the “Hot Search” league table was dominated by celebrity news.

Key Chinese Sources:
The Paper (澎湃新闻网): 马上评|“下游人民就该受灾吗”,水库泄洪之问不容回避
WeChat Public Account “Xiake Dao” (微信公众号”侠客岛”): 寿光洪水,答案藏在细节里
WeChat Public Account “Xiu Tan Ji”(微信公众号”闲谈集”): 放水淹寿光:与所有的灾难相比,愚蠢是最大的灾难
Jiemian News (界面新闻): 山东潍坊通报为何泄洪:台风降水远超预报 不泄将影响近百万人生命安全
WeChat Public Account “Mei Tong She” (微信公众号”媒通社”): 寿光水灾舆情复盘:众声喧哗,这里急需权威主流媒体报道!
People’s Daily Online (人民网): 暴雨致潍坊逾147万人受灾 启动应急预案最高级别响应

[2] Party Media Criticize Rights Defense by Jasic Workers in Shenzhen, Saying it is Supported Financially By Outside Organizations / “Maoist Youth” Come to the Fore

On August 24, China’s official Xinhua News Agency ran a news story called, “Behind the ‘Rights Defense’ Incident By Workers at Shenzhen’s Jasic Company” (深圳佳士公司工人“维权”事件的背后), clearly part of a strategy by state media to discredit the labor actions at Shenzhen’s Jasic Technology Co., Ltd., which began back in May this year as workers who tried to organize an independent labor union were attacked by thugs and fired from their jobs. “The reporter discovered,” the story said, “that as investigations by the Public Security Bureau have deepened, the truth concealed behind the workers’ rights demands has slowly come to the surface.” The report, based on clear collaboration with police, employing direct quotes from interrogations, alleged a conspiracy to incite unrest by local worker advocacy organizations supported by overseas non-profits.

On August 24, authorities in Guangdong detained around 50 Maoist activists who had come together in Shenzhen to support Jasic workers in their bid for an independent union. Video footage of the police action shared online showed police in full riot gear shoving their way into an apartment where the activists were staying.

Key Chinese Sources:
BBC Chinese (BBC中文网): 深圳佳士工人维权发酵:多名声援团成员失联
Xinhua News Agency (新华社): 深圳佳士公司工人“维权”事件的背后
Southern Metropolis Daily (南方都市报): 深圳佳士“维权”事件调查
Guangming Daily (光明日报): 维权不能脱离法治轨道

[3] Xu Lin Promoted As Director of the State Council Information Office, Bi Jingquan Sacked as Deputy Chief of the State Market Regulatory Administration in Wake of Vaccine Scandal

On August 21, Xinhua News Agency reported that Zhuang Rongwen (庄荣文), previously head of the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (National Copyright Administration), had been appointed as director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, and as a deputy director of the Information Office of the State Council. The same Xinhua notice reported that Xu Lin (徐麟), previously director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, was now appointed as director of Information Office of the State Council.

The notice also said that Bi Jingquan (毕井泉) would be removed as deputy director of the State Market Regulatory Administration. Bi’s removal, a direct result of the recent scandal surrounding the sale of substandard vaccines in China, was regarded as unfortunate by some industry experts, who saw Bi as a reformer in the process of revitalizing the domestic pharmaceutical industry.

Key Chinese Sources:
Xinhua News Agency (新华社): 国务院任免国家工作人员
Lianhe Zaobao Online (联合早报网): 变革者毕井泉引咎辞职 药监改革何去何从

[4] Documentary “Looking Back on Yan’an” Airs, Emphasizing Role of Core Leadership
From August 17-19, the Party Building Conference of the Central Military Commission, the command and control center of the Chinese military, was held in Beijing. Delegates at the meeting attended a screening of a not-yet-released propaganda documentary called “Looking Back on Yan’an” (回望延安) — produced by the People’s Liberation Army News Broadcast Center (解放军新闻传播中心). On August 21, two days after the conference, the film was released during prime time on three separate channels in the China Central Television network.

On August 23, explanations of the film were published in various media under the control of the People’s Liberation Army. According to the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the military’s principal propaganda organ, one of the key themes of the propaganda film is the “emergence of a single leadership core,” referring to the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party — but also of course referring to President Xi Jinping.

Key Chinese Sources:
CCTV.com (央视网): 央视隆重推出大型文献片《回望延安》
PLA Daily Online (中国军网):《回望延安》: 回望党和军队的精神家园
Xinhua News Agency (新华社): 从延安精神中汲取力量——文献片《回望延安》在军内外引起强烈反响

[5] Cyberspace Administration of China: Online Short Videos Must Be Full of Positive Energy

In recent days, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has held numerous forums and conferences to promote the “building of positive energy content” in the field of online short video, pressing the need to offer greater intensity of “authoritative” and “positive” content — and to use the visual strengths of short video to explain to the masses the importance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the CCP.

At one forum attended by 36 online short video platforms, an official from the CAC emphasized that as the platforms upheld Socialist Core Values (社会主义核心价值观), they must resolutely remove “illegal information in violation of regulations” — a term used to apply broadly (and often inconsistently) to content the authorities regard as politically sensitive. The participants, who included such platforms as Pear Video (梨视频), Tik Tok (抖音) and Kuaishou (快手), affirmed their commitment to upholding their “corporate responsibilities” and “increasing the supply of positive energy content.”

Key Chinese Sources:
CAC Website (中国网信网): 要让网络短视频充满正能量