Chinese media rang in the country’s seventh annual Journalist’s Day yesterday with a range of buzzwords expressing various views on the role of journalism in China, but topping the list by a long shot was President Hu Jintao’s “Harmonious Society”.
CMP’s search of more than 180 mainland newspapers for November 8 came up with 62 articles mentioning “Journalist’s Day” in either the headline or body. The results for eight key buzzwords are plotted on the bar graph below (marking total # of occurrences of the term in the body of November 8 coverage). Five of the terms are “red words”, or official buzzwords marking party ideology. They are: 1. Marxist View of Journalism, 2. Socialist View of Honor and Shame, 3. The Three Represents, 4. Guidance of Public Opinion, and 5. Harmonious Society. “Press freedom” and “professionalism” are what we call “blue words”, or terms denoting press roles at odds with official party ideology. The last term, “supervision by public opinion” is more complicated. In advocating the press as a means of monitoring power, it can be considered a blue word, but has been listed by the party as a recognized form of supervision:


“Harmonious Society” clearly topped the group, with more than double the references of any other buzzword. Readers may also notice that on a day purportedly dedicated to the profession of journalism in China, there was no mention whatsoever of the term “professionalism” in the party or commercial press. While this is worth noting, “professionalism” (专业主义) is a term in China used largely by communications scholars and less often by journalists. “Guidance of public opinion” (舆论导向), China’s principle buzzword for media control, came in second on our list of buzzwords, with roughly half the number of mentions as “Harmonious Society” (NOTE: the shortened form “guidance” (导向) is lately preferred, the longer form being associated with former President Jiang Zemin).
While both “guidance” and “Harmonious Society” are red words, the prevalence of “Harmonious Society” can also be explained (aside from its vogue as Hu Jintao’s new ideological weapon) by its more universal appeal — which is to say, more independent commercial newspapers can appropriate the term (and its rhetorical emphasis on social equality) along with “blue words” like “press freedom” (which party media will generally use only in a negative sense).
For example, Southern Metropolis Daily, a commercial newspaper known for pushing the envelope, particularly in its editorials, quoted a Nanjing media expert yesterday as saying journalists needed to play an important role in the creation of a “Harmonious Society”. But the red word “Harmonious Society” was mixed in with notions antithetical to party “guidance” like a “platform for public opinion” and “civic spirit”:
Fan Yanming [of Nanjing University] says that building a harmonious society means thoroughly building the base for a moderately well-off society (小康社会), and various media, including Southern Metropolis Daily have a key role to play. The media are not outliers, he said, but the most active and most vital participants and builders. They are key to promoting advanced culture and are the most important platform for public opinion (公众舆论平台). They bear responsibility for fostering the civic spirit (公民精神) and a sense of mission.
The term “guidance”, which refers unambiguously to China’s media control regime, was used predominantly by party media (the “dailies” as opposed to the “metros”). The term appeared in the following papers: Jiangnan Times, People’s Daily, Legal Daily, Shantou Daily, Jiangxi Daily,Jiangnan Metro Daily, Guangming Daily, Henan Daily, Nanfang Daily, Dahe Daily, Jinri An Bao, Henan Commercial Daily. Interestingly, while Jinri An Bao, Henan Commercial Daily and Dahe Daily are commercial spin-offs, they are also all Henan newspapers, and all yesterday ran a letter issued by the provincial propaganda department, in which “correct guidance of public opinion” was emphasized. One can suppose all newspapers were instructed to place the letter.
But a second article in Jinri An Bao, a commercial law-related newspaper under the umbrella of the Henan Daily Group, deals with Journalist’s Day in quite different terms from the letter drafted by propaganda authorities. The article’s headline reads: “Companies pay money to ‘kill’ negative news”. The lede paragraph follows:
Today is November 8, Journalist’s Day in China. This is the seventh Journalist’s Day. But journalists have lately faced unprecedented pressure on their [right to conduct] supervision by public opinion. This suppression and challenge has come on the one hand from government offices and on the other from companies and individuals against the background of the market economy. Those about whom [negative] news is exposed abuse their right to the law and engage in bad faith lawsuits in order to wriggle out of responsibility or avoid facing issues. The news must speak the truth. Sometimes speaking the truth requires that journalists and the media they work for pay a price. What does this price mean for those brave reporters out there protecting social justice and those media speaking the truth?
The article continues with a litany of challenges journalists face, including official refusal to accept interviews (the issue of information disclosure) and payment for the “killing” of news stories that offices or companies view as negative.
In a section called, “Foxconn Case suppresses public right to know”, the newspaper writes: “The fanning up of the ‘Foxconn Case’ in which a reporter was [initially] sued for 30 million yuan was regarded as an intrusion on press freedom”.
In yet another article, Jin Ri Anbao, the source for all three “press freedom” references yesterday, argued that journalism should be protected by creation of a media law:
How then do we ensure that the public respects the work of journalists and that each news professional takes on his /her individual social responsibility, leveraging supervision by public opinion and making Journalist’s Day truly into a glorious holiday? The answer is simple. Journalism must be protected by systems and measures, namely the creation of a media law! This is the most effective way of protecting press freedom and limiting the misuse of press freedom. We do have options!
While the most extreme press freedom rhetoric came from the commercial Jinri An Bao, the most extreme party press rhetoric, “Marxist View of Journalism”, came from central party newspapers, including Guangming Daily, the official paper of the Propaganda Department, and Economic Daily, and from Fujian Daily, the official mouthpiece of top leaders in that province (who have lately spoken strongly against stronger press supervision). The language in Guangming Daily: “We study from those advanced persons within the journalism world, principally we study their news careers of respect for the party. [We study] the political consciousness and brilliant standpoints of those who are mindful of the Three Represents and practitioners of the Marxist View of Journalism …”
In Economic Daily and Fujian Daily the language came from a November 7 release from the official Xinhua News Agency on the occasion of Journalist’s Day, which mentioned Hu’s “Harmonious Society” in the headline and said:
More than 700 thousands news workers [in China] have persisted in the Marxist View of Journalism, have upheld the spirit and ethics of the profession, respectfully following the key thought of the Three Represents and using their own special method to undertake their responsibility before the party and the people.
[Posted by David Bandurski, November 9, 2006, 10:12pm]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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