Responding to a flood of recent news raising tough questions about the role of the media, press ethics and propaganda controls, a top Guangdong propaganda official said yesterday that media were an “indispensable” form of monitoring, but that there was also a need to “raise the character” of Chinese journalists. [BELOW: Screen capture from Sina.com of coverage today of Guangdong propaganda official’s statements concerning news media].
The comments from Hu Guohua (胡国华 ), Guangdong’s deputy propaganda minister, made particular reference to recent comments from leaders in Guangdong blaming the media for worsening social trends there. Media yesterday reported comments from representatives to the ongoing Guangdong provincial People’s Congress, who said the media shared responsibility for public concerns about food safety. Last month, a top law enforcement official in Guangzhou drew criticism after he blamed the media for worsening public safety in the city.
Hu Guohua said Guangdong presently accounts for one-eight of the national economy and the province has entered an era of “golden” development. However, social tensions have also risen to the surface, “a trend I can see clearly from my position”.
The minister painted a picture of exploding social stories and rising concerns among local officials about the impact on their public images: “Right now the propaganda department is at its busiest. We must take care of multiple problems appearing in various media reports. Because social tensions are increasing, the material for news reports is growing hand over fist. Some news reporters do not have a proper hold on guidance [of public opinion],and some content is reported without the proper verification of facts, having a negative social impact. In terms of the timing of reports, the layout of pages, incorrect phraseology, there have been many problems,and everyday we receive phone calls from various government offices demanding that this not be reported or that not be reported. We basically consider their requests, but speaking from a long-term perspective, not reporting this or not reporting that is not a workable control strategy [for the media].”
On the question of HOW media should be controlled, Hu had this to say: “Some people say that the increase in cases [of crime, food safety, etc] has something to do with the media. [But] the rise in the number of cases is related to economic development, and is an objective outcome of the process of social development, having little to do with journalists. From the standpoint of news control, how can we use journalists? [Guangdong Party Secretary] Zhang Dejiang said it well. He said we need to treat the media well, use the media well and manage the media well. Controlling the media does not mean allowing them to report nothing”.
The Zhang Dejiang reference was in fact in line with Hu Jintao’s recent statements about control of the Internet, in which the president said party leaders must seek to “develop it well, use it well and manage it well”(建设好、利用好、管理好).
Hu Guohua emphasized yesterday that media were an “indispensable” part of necessary monitoring and supervision in Chinese society. Without watchdog journalism, or “supervision by public opinion”, he said, “many problems in society could not be solved, and the weaker elements of society would have no voice”.
Hu also called for greater discipline among news media and hinted at the excesses of media commercialization: “In the process of monitoring, we need to raise the character of news workers,” he said. “If news reporters do not raise their character, if they do not have a sense of responsibility to society, or a sense of mission, then the reports they write will be irresponsible and only seek to attract eyeballs”.
[Posted by David Bandurski, February 7, 2007, 11:35am]