One prominent aspect of media control in the Xi Jinping era has been its growing brazenness. No longer is censorship quite so shrouded in secrecy as it once was. Rather, it is announced openly as a matter of social and political necessity, and as the legal obligation of every company seeking to profit from the potentially lucrative digital space.

A pair of binding documents released this past week by the China Netcasting Services Association (中国网络视听节目服务协会) are a great case in point. They openly set out the “content review” standards expected of companies providing online video services, including the removal of content that “attacks on our country’s political or legal systems”, and “content that damages the national image.” One of the documents even specifies that companies expand their internal censorship teams as business grows and changes, and that they keep at least one “content review” employee on staff for every 1,000 new videos posted to their platform each day.

Make no mistake, censorship is deeply imbedded in China’s digital media industry, so that every company must internally balance the demands and costs of political content control and commercial profitability.

Also this past week, we had the National Propaganda Ministers Conference. The message coming out of that was the need to promote “banners of thought for the New Era” (新时代的思想旗帜). That is tantamount to saying that propaganda should focus on upholding Xi Jinping’s ideas. Will that mean we see “Xi Jinping Thought” come out into the open as a propaganda phrase? Something to key an eye on.

THIS WEEK IN CHINA’S MEDIA
January 5-11, 2019

➢ National Propaganda Work Conference Opens with the Theme of “Banner Thoughts for the New Era”
➢ CCTV runs news documentary on illegal development in protected areas of the Qinling Mountains
➢ WeChat publishes statistics on user behaviour and is accused by users of monitoring chat histories
➢ Regulation on management and content review for short videos takes effect, “bullet screen” real-time commenting also subject to prior censorship

[1] National Propaganda Work Conference Opens with the Theme of “Banner Thoughts for the New Era”

The National Propaganda Ministers Conference, a gathering of top national and provincial propaganda leaders, was held in Beijing on January 6. According to reports by state media, Wang Huning (王沪宁), a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and secretary of the CCP’s Secretariat, emphasised during the session that the “important thought” (重要思想) of President Xi Jinping on the conduct of propaganda work provides the “program of action” (行动纲领) for propaganda work in the “New Era.”

Wang Huning (center) addresses the National Propaganda Ministers Conference.

The conference was led by Huang Kunming (黄坤明), minister of the Central Propaganda Department. According to an account reported in the People’s Daily on January 8, Huang told those present that “[the Party] must raise high the banners of thought for the New Era, promoting the deeper development of the study, propagation and implementation of Xi Jinping Thought of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.” Huang Kunming’s use of the phrase “banners of thought for the New Era” (新时代的思想旗帜) marked the second time the phrase has been used in the official People’s Daily newspaper. The phrase appeared for the first time in the January 6, 2019, edition of the paper, in an article called “Guarding the Correct Path and Blazing New Trails: Discussion of Propaganda, Ideology and Culture Work Since the Party’s 19th National Congress” A sub-head in the article was also, “Soaring Advancement of Banners of Thought for the New Era” (高扬奋进新时代的思想旗帜).

Key Sources:
People’s Daily (人民日报): 全国宣传部长会议在京召开 王沪宁出席并讲话

[2] CCTV runs news documentary on illegal development in protected areas of the Qinling Mountains

Screenshot of CCTV’s news documentary on illegal development near Xi’an.

On the evening of January 9, 2019, China Central Television broadcast an official state-produced news documentary, or xinwen zhuantipian (新闻专题片), called “Until They Are Caught” (一抓到底正风纪). According to the documentary, from May 2014 to July 2018, President Xi Jinping put his signature six times to actions against illegal construction in protected areas of the Qinling Mountains (秦岭) near the city of Xi’an.

According to this account, the Central Party dispatched Xu Lingyi (徐令义), a deputy director of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to serve as head of a special task force to deal with illegal development in protected areas. Since July 2018, more than 1,100 illegal developments along the northern edge of the Qinling range near Xi’an have been legally demolished, said the news documentary, and many local officials are now under investigation.

Key Sources:
CCTV.com (央视网): 一抓到底正风纪
WeChat public account “Xia Ke Dao” (侠客岛):【解局】整治秦岭违建拍成了专题片,背后大有深意
Xinhua News Agency (新华网): 从六次批示看习近平一抓到底的工作作风
Shaanxi Daily (陕西日报): 深刻汲取教训 以实际行动坚决做到“两个维护”——央视专题片《一抓到底正风纪》在我省干部群众中引起强烈反响

[3] WeChat publishes statistics on user behaviour and is accused by users of monitoring chat histories

On January 9, Tencent released a statistical report on its WeChat platform that included the emojis frequently used by users, their sleep patterns and their video and conversation habits. The report said that users aged 55 and older tended to sleep earlier and rise earlier, and pursued a wide range of leisure activities online throughout the day, including chatting, shopping and reading, and that they typically enjoyed video chatting with their children after dinnertime. The report even provided details the various emojis preferred by various age groups. For example, millennials prefer “facepalm” emojis, while post-90s prefer “laugh until you cry” emojis and post-80s prefer “toothed smile” emojis.

Discussing the Tencent report, some WeChat users voiced the view that the data released by the company showed that WeChat chat histories are closely monitored. Noting, for example, the observation in the report that “those aged 55 and older enjoyed video chatting with their children after dinner,”  one user responded, in a complaint echoed by many others: “How does WeChat know what their relationships are?”

WeChat responded these concerns by saying that the statistical report was made strictly in accordance with relevant laws and regulations,  and that all data had been handled with sensitivity to privacy concerns.

Key Sources:
Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报): 微信“监控”隐私?腾讯:均已匿名脱敏

[4] Regulation on management and content review for short videos takes effect, “bullet screen” real-time commenting also subject to prior censorship

The China Netcasting Services Association (中国网络视听节目服务协会), an ostensible membership organisation of broadcasters that actually serves an indirect regulatory role, released two documents providing the basis for the control and review of short video broadcasting in China. These are “Management Regulations for Online Short Video Platforms” (网络短视频平台管理规范) and “Detailed Standards for Content Review of Online Short Video” (网络短视频内容审核标准细则).

“Management Regulations for Online Short Video Platforms” provides guidance for the overall management of platforms providing online video (or “netcasting”) services, including management of user accounts, content controls and technical procedures. The document, for example, specifies that online video platforms must implement systems of prior review of content(节目内容先审后播制度), and review must cover program title lines (节目的标题),  program introductions (简介), bullet screens (弹幕), comments (评论) and other areas. The document requires that service providers build content review and supervision teams . (审核员队伍) in step with the development of product areas. There is even a stipulation in the document that a minimum of one content reviewer (审核员人) be on staff for every 1,000 new videos post online every day — which suggests, for example, that a platform posting 1 million new videos per day would require at least 1,000 content reviewers on staff.

“Detailed Standards for Content Review of Online Short Video” is directed specifically at content review personnel at online video platforms, and provides 100 “review standards” (审核标准) to be followed in the course of content review. These include “attacks on our country’s political or legal systems” (攻击我国政治制度), “content that [encourages] national separatism” (分裂国家的内容), and “content that damages the national image” (损害国家形象的内容).

Key Sources:
People’s Daily Online (人民网): 《网络短视频平台管理规范》《网络短视频内容审核标准细则》发布
Hexun.com(和讯网): 十大关键词解读短视频平台管理规范及100条细则
China Netcasting Services Association (中国网络视听节目服务协会): 网络短视频平台管理规范
AND: 网络短视频内容审核标准细则